On a Sunday afternoon, students gather in a classroom in west suburban Glen Ellyn, skipping the misery of a Chicago Bears heartbreaker at the hands of San Francisco.
Instead, they are learning to defend their loved ones, and themselves, with guns.
“I have to be certain that (an offender’s) intentions are to harm me or my family, before I can respond with deadly force,” instructor Michelle Quesada warns her students. “Just being in my house is not enough!”
The classes meet once a month, in the multi-million dollar Homeland Security Training Center at College of DuPage. The high tech facility was built to train criminal justice students, police, firefighters, and other first responders. But one weekend a month, everyday citizens get the chance to man the firing lines, receiving state-mandated instruction for a concealed carry permit in Illinois.
Currently, there are 141,027 residents in the state with concealed carry licenses. And demand is high. On the big black Friday shopping holiday, over 5,000 background check requests were made from gun stores statewide, an increase of over a thousand from the same day last year.
“We want to teach people the right way to carry a concealed weapon,” says associate dean Tom Brady. “We talk about—why did you make that decision? Is there something else you could have done? Would you have been better off just running away, calling the police?”
Indeed, heavy doses of reality and responsibility are key components of the DuPage course.
“We don’t want somebody to make a life changing decision in an emotional state when their adrenaline is pumping,” Quesada says. “I always say if there’s an opportunity to retreat, take it. The consequences we express so much—that if you can avoid a situation at all, that is always your best option.”
But of course, the students who have paid their fee and given up a weekend for the DuPage training, are most concerned with any time they might have to draw a gun and use it. They are put on the shooting range, and must qualify from 5, 7, and 10 yards. Each is put in computerized shooting simulators, where real-life scenarios unfold on the screen, and they must make split second decisions whether or not to shoot.
In those simulations, an instructor can vary the scenario, depending on the verbal cues the students offer. Sometimes the bad guys surrender. Sometimes they attack.
“We try to let the students know that you need to defend yourself not only with a firearm, but you have to be able to articulate why it is you did what you did,” says instructor Keith Aller. “And make sure that you’re well within the law.”
Toward that end, students are reminded that just defending property in Illinois is not enough to shoot. If you walk downstairs at 3 a.m. and someone is stealing your television and video games, that’s not a time to fire.
“That is not self-defense, you are not protecting your life or someone else’s life that you love,” Quesada warns. “You are protecting your television and your PlayStation!”
But a real attack of course, is a different matter. The rule of thumb, students are told, is that there must be an immediate threat to yourself, or someone else.
“If somebody breaks the window, comes into your house, that changes the story,” she says. “They’ve entered violently. It’s assumed they’re there to harm you or your family.”
There are numbers: 90% of attackers will try to shoot you from 23 feet or less, and half of the time, it will be within 9.9 feet; but 93% of all gunshot attacks by a violent offender are not deadly.
In other words, if you have better training than your attacker, you have a good chance of being the victor.
“They aren’t police officers—we want to make sure they understand that,” Brady cautions. “That weapon is to protect themselves.”
Indeed, over and over, along with the training on how and where to most effectively bring down an attacker, the DuPage students are warned to think twice about whether they really want to pull the trigger.
“The biggest compliment that we get coming out of this class is, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this now,’” says Aller. “Because we impart there is so much responsibility in doing this, and there is an aftermath.”