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Concealed carry ‘hot’ in Sangamon, Macon counties

January 20, 2014 at 08:19 AM

The State Journal-Register

Sangamon and Macon counties are a hotbed for concealed carry permit applicants, according to Illinois State Police data released last week.

Excluding Chicago-area and Metro-East counties, Sangamon County’s 569 total applicants were second only to far northern Winnebago County, where 597 people had applied.

But when looking at the numbers per capita, it’s a slightly different story.

In non-metropolitan counties with 100,000 or more people, Macon County leads in per capita concealed carry applications with a ratio of one applicant for every 257 residents. Sangamon County’s applicant ratio is one for every 347.

Cumberland County in southern Illinois led all counties in per capita applicants with one for every 196 residents — of the 11,048 people, 56 have applied.

Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson on Friday said local interest in concealed carry has been piqued for a long time.

“Downstate especially, (concealed carry) has been bandied around for a decade,” he said.

Williamson thinks the wealth of media centered at the state capital keeps the concealed carry debate at the forefront of citizens’ minds. So when citizens are always thinking about something, it’s only a matter of time before they act.'

“It’s not unusual that the minute people can get online, they’ll apply,” Williamson said of citizens who want permits. He said Sangamon County’s high number of applicants reflects the “pent-up frustrations people have felt over the years” about why it took Illinois so long to allow concealed carry.
Organized effort

Comfort, along with coverage, may be a reason for local support of Second Amendment rights.

“A lot of these people have grown up around guns,” said Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg. “They want that ability to carry because they have that comfort level.”

Brauer also said that rural residents would be better able to protect themselves during a violent encounter if they have firearms close at hand.

“By the time they put a call in to 911, it might be a half hour or 45 minutes before” officers arrive on scene, he said.

As for Macon County, public organization could explain the widespread support there.

Dan Cooley, owner of The Bullet Trap range in Macon, recalls “a very pro-gun, pro-carry attitude” from Macon County Sheriff Tom Schneider and Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott.

Schneider said that leading up to the passage of the concealed carry bill last July, he and Scott saw an opportunity to educate the public. And while he said their personal efforts were “not a catalyst for the numbers, it was an organized effort throughout Macon County.”

Scott agreed, noting that Macon County was one of a handful of counties in Illinois that announced last summer it wouldn’t punish citizens with concealed firearms even though a statewide bill hadn’t yet been passed.

“There were several sheriffs and state’s attorneys in the other counties that felt the right of the citizens should be acknowledged,” Scott said.

The 500 people on Cooley’s concealed carry training class waiting list felt the same way. It took three months just to get through the backlog, Cooley said.

Business is still steady today. He offers the training three days a week with classes of 15 students at a time.

Women boost numbers

Another explanation for concealed carry’s local popularity is an expansion of participation by women.

Stephanie Conner, manager of Bullet Express in Auburn, says it’s mostly about self-protection.

“I had one woman who was very adamant on taking (the course) because she was attacked a year ago,” Conner said. “She wanted to protect herself.”

Of the seven instructors at Bullet Express, two are women.

Cooley sees the same trend at The Bullet Trap.

“Women are really starting to come into this thing. Personal protection is their primary concern,” he said.

He estimates women make up 20 percent of his students, more than he’s ever had before — and enough for him to offer a ladies day once a week at his range.

Whatever the reasons for local support of concealed carry rights might be, Sheriff Schneider said, “I think the support was initially there.”

State’s Attorney Scott agreed.

“We’ve got a lot of law-abiding citizens here who feel like they’ve been denied that right long enough,” he said.

Contact Tobias Wall: 782-3095, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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