Illinois residents have been able to carry concealed weapons since 2013, and Illinois State Police statistics show that an increasing number are taking the 16 hours of training required to obtain a license.
The numbers also show that rural areas of central and southern Illinois have the largest percentage of their residents getting a license. Jasper County ranks 11th in the state, Shelby County is 14th. Effingham County sits in about the middle of the state's 102 counties, at 53rd.
Ed Blade, 44, a nurse who lives in rural Greenup, has been carrying a concealed handgun for years. He decided to get the weapon largely for personal and family safety. He recalls when it wasn't an option.
"Growing up an Illinoisan, you're used to thinking you can't" carry a concealed firearm, he said, referring to state law prior to 2013.
The remoteness of his home led him to think about how to keep himself and his family safe, especially since the response time for police to his home is estimated at 30 minutes.
In general, state police statistics show that rural counties have a higher percentage of concealed carrier holders than urban areas.
Blade's native Cumberland County is 34th in the state by percentage of population with concealed carry licenses. He said living in a rural area demands self-reliance, and the permit is an example of that.
That's part of the reasoning used by Brenda Williams of Louisville, an administrative assistant. She used a Florida concealed carry permit for years. She got her Illinois permit last month. The Florida license is accepted in 37 states, which allows her to carry her weapon while she and her husband travel.
Blade and Williams also view their actions as a form of community security. Some people aren't able or willing to carry a weapon, but they may also need protection, Williams said. That self-assumed responsibility goes beyond carrying a handgun, Williams said: It demands a different way of looking at the world.
Williams said that the person carrying has to engage in a greater awareness of what is going on. One example would be shopping. Rather than focusing solely on the product, the licensee has to be aware of the other people in the store, entries, exits and more.
That's simply part of the responsibility of owning the weapon, Williams said.
Those practices comes from training, according to Kevin Mante, owner of Applied Combative Solutions. He teaches concealed carry classes. Mante is also a corporal in the Arthur Police Department.
"You basically have to change your life, because of the level of responsibility," Mante said.
Mante teaches students the same four-color system used by many police agencies: From "white," which is relaxed and unaware, to red, which means focus is on the primary threat. The steps demand looking at what is happening. He said proper use of a concealed carry weapon demands repeated practice, both for accuracy and situational awareness.
That's lacking from the required training, Mante said. That's focused on safety and law.
Under the law, the only time a person is required to fire the firearm is for the test with the license, where they need to reach a 70 percent accuracy at a maximum range of 10 yards. Mante said 80 percent of his students do not intend to carry weapons regularly. Rather, their desire to to have the handgun with them while they travel, he said.
That applies, in part, to Blade. He tries to carry often, but if he's planning to go somewhere he can't carry, he has to consider what to do. Across the nation, firearms are barred from federal courthouses, national parks and other locations. The list is longer in Illinois, including schools, zoos, playgrounds, places that serve alcohol and on public transportation. Private business owners can also bar the weapons by putting up a sign.
There is, however, a "safe haven" exception in the law for firearms in parking lots of some locations. There a weapon can be left, if it is locked and properly stored. That has raised a concern for law enforcement.
Effingham Police Chief Jeff Fuesting said burglary from vehicles that include a stolen handgun are particularly concerning. There was one recently, he said, although it appeared it was a simple burglary that was not seeking the firearm.
The 2013 state law allows law enforcement to object to people applying for a license. But Effingham County Sheriff David Mahon hasn't used the option in his time as sheriff, nor does he expect to need to.
But he might object to someone who is subject to a pending arrest warrant, or convicted felons, or people arrested for domestic battery. They'd likely already be picked up by the State Police research.
In Effingham County, there are 961 active licenses. Five have been revoked and two applications were denied. Shelby County has 818 active licenses; six revoked and two denied.
One of the problems that Mahon sees is that any objection he might make, such as known gang ties or suspected involvement in organized crime, would require him to show some amount of proof. That proof could be difficult to produce, he said.
Illinois law requires that someone with a CCL have a FOID card, which eliminates several categories of people, such as felons, those addicted to narcotics or people convicted of domestic battery.
A recent Illinois First Appellate Court case ran into this, when Micheal Jankovich sought to get a license, despite 18 arrests and threats to put an employee through a wood chipper. Jankovich argued the cases relied on unconstitutional hearsay evidence and it was a violation of the Second Amendment.
The First Appellate court found that the review board is required to rely on such evidence and upheld the denial.
Ranking counties by concealed carry licenses
The Illinois county with the largest percentage of residents with concealed carry licenses by population is tiny Pope County at the southern tip of the state, which has a population of less than 4,200 and 210 active licenses, according to the Illinois State Police. Of the counties in this region, Jasper ranks the highest. It's 11th in the state.
1. Pope (Active licenses: 210. Population: 4,157.)
11. Jasper (Active licenses: 385. Population: 9,536.)
14. Shelby (Active licenses: 818. Population: 21,717.)
23. Moultrie (Active licenses: 513. Population: 14,827.)
31. Fayette (Active licenses: 709. Population: 21,789.)
34. Cumberland (Active licenses: 350. Population: 10,858.)
35. Christian (Active licenses: 1,068. Population: 33,309.)
53. Effingham (Active licenses: 961. Population: 34,386.)
67. Coles (Active licenses: 1,309. Population: 52,343.)
102. Knox (Active licenses: 1,079. Population: 531,715.)