Federal courts give Gov. Pat Quinn until Sunday to sign into law a bill allowing civilians to carry guns in public. But thousands of our state's residents already are licensed to carry guns throughout most of the nation -- except Illinois -- as nonresidents of Utah.
As of Friday, when the Illinois legislature passed our concealed carry law, a whopping 29,404 people who claim residency in Illinois already possess concealed-carry permits from the state of Utah, according to Utah's department of public safety. That department was averaging 1,500 applications a week as recently as April but now receives 5,000 a week. Once an Illinois law goes into effect, that trend is expected to continue.
"It's like basic cable and adding the premium channels. Illinois will be basic cable," explains Ron Farkas, a Utah-certified firearms instructor conducting classes throughout the suburbs this month qualifying people for Utah's nonresident permits.
The proposed Illinois law requires qualified gun owners who pass background checks and submit fingerprints to pay a $150 fee and undergo 16 hours of training before receiving a concealed-carry permit. That same gun owner can qualify for a concealed-carry permit as a nonresident of Utah by paying just $51 and completing only four hours of training. While Utah honors concealed-carry permits from every state that issues them and has reciprocity with most states, Illinois currently doesn't honor similar permits from any other states. In Utah, a person with a concealed-carry permit can bring a gun into a public school, baseball stadium, park or a bar. The Illinois law would ban guns from all of those places. Every state has its own laws. It's confusing.
"There are apps on your smartphone for that," says Farkas. Even his newspaper advertisements change with the geography. My Daily Herald, a family owned newspaper, wouldn't accept the advertisement from Farkas' GunSafetyGroup.com until he removed the attention-getting image of a Glock 22 .40-caliber handgun, which accompanied his ads in other newspapers. Just driving from Illinois to Utah is tricky for people who travel with a gun.
"They find out they are a criminal because they didn't transport legally," says Farkas, who says he will help people get a handle on the myriad laws during his $100 classes scheduled in Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Elgin and Aurora. "People have to understand the laws or they become the criminal."
Even then, there might be some gray areas. Utah notes that "private property owners may apply whatever restrictions they want," and then advises that "whether or not these restrictions violate one's constitutional rights is for the civil courts to decide."
The one thing that most concealed-carry supporters and gun-control advocates can agree on is that we want to make society safer. That takes education, Farkas says. While he qualifies a gun owner for a concealed-carry permit in four hours, Farkas doesn't want his students to think that's all it takes to be a law-abiding, responsible, safe gun owner. The Constitution's Second Amendment talks about the right to bear arms, but Farkas follows that up with a heavy dose of responsibility.
"A gun is not a gun; it's a mental state," Farkas says. "If they (gun owners) don't understand the use of deadly force, they will go to jail."
A former police officer who runs a company that specializes in bomb-sniffing dogs and anti-terrorist security, Farkas says concealed-carry permit seekers shouldn't be content with a four-hour class certified by Utah or even the 16 hours of training that would be mandated by Illinois.
"A firearm is something like golf. You don't just take a lesson," says Farkas, who says he has taught safety to thousands of gun owners. "I believe people should have a minimum of 40 hours of training they do voluntarily."
Since that training would be voluntarily, you could even do it during a week's vacation in Utah.