Retired police officer schools area teachers in concealed-carry class

Retired police officer schools area teachers in concealed-carry class

FARMER CITY — Call it professional development.

In the weeks following a Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 people dead, as public discourse surged with calls for lawmakers to act, retired police officer Rick Noble saw an opening.

If it was true that lawmakers could more effectively restrict who gets access to guns, then it stood to reason that they could also make guns more accessible to specific groups.

One of those groups, Noble thought, could be teachers.

So as the public debate continued, the Adventure Tactical Training owner organized a traditional, 16-hour concealed-carry course that he teaches with his business partner, Dean Hazen. Only this time, he opened it only to teachers.

"We had more than 150 people sign up," he said. "But we had to cap it."

During last weekend's two-day training session, a crowd of nearly 30 gathered at Farmer City's American Legion hall. They hailed from mostly rural school districts (Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Blue Ridge, DeLand-Weldon and Mattoon among them) but three came from Champaign County (two from Rantoul, one from Urbana).

They were teachers, or teacher's aides, or custodians or bus drivers, and one superintendent. Most brought their own firearms. Only a handful were male.

What drove them to sign up for the course during their summers — time already filled with professional development courses, grad school homework and minding children of their own — differed.

Some, like first-grade teacher Megan Cramer of Hudson, came because it was a chance to take a concealed-carry course for free.

"I think overall, since it was offered free of charge instead of the $150 — we're poor teachers, let's be honest," she said.

Others came with thoughts of children and gun violence on their minds. Jeremiah Benison, a Rantoul art teacher, said if he has the opportunity to carry while teaching, he "probably would" take it.

"Most likely, I would probably be in a situation where I'm going up to the front," he said. "I feel like my size, my physicality — I use it often. I'm not a runner. I'm not a sprinter. But the children are my priority.

"Sometimes, the only way to stop a person with a gun is being a person with a gun. (There are) a lot of decisions to be made, but I'm here to get the knowledge and see where it will go from there."

* * *

Ask any teacher, and they'll tell you how many duties they already have to juggle in an average school day. Now, add a gun to the equation.

Former DeWitt County Chief Deputy Mike Walker, for one, believes the situation could be managed.

"You have decisions to make — not just in school, but when you're carrying," the newly-announced sheriff's candidate told the participants. "This class is the first step in being able to make those decisions.

"I'm so happy to see so many teachers here because I think teachers are hesitant to get involved with firearms because of the negativity and all the things that have happened."

He was also quick to point out that it takes a lot longer than two days of training for anyone — teachers or police officers, for that matter — to be ready to act responsibly with a gun.

"Don't just come in here and take a two-day class and think you can handle this firearm proficiently," he said. "It's like anything else you have to work on — teaching abilities and other things. There are situations after 20, 30 years in law enforcement, we have to think about if we engage."

* * *

Under state law, full-time employees with a teaching license already must go through 120 hours of professional development training in a five-year period.

Just finding the time to carve out most of a weekend for concealed-carry training was a challenge, said Julie Smith, who lives in rural Urbana.

Plus, many educators on hand last weekend had already received active training through their school districts in the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) method.

"It was a lot for us to come here, just even with grad school," Smith said. "I haven't made a decision if they legalize it to have it in the classroom — I'm not sure if I would do that."

Smith said her uncertainty stemmed from teaching young children, in elementary school, where the need to be armed seemed less likely.

Secondly, she said, "the kids hug us all the time, so I'm not sure about" carrying.

Noble tried to address that anxiety with a statement: "People who are carrying concealed don't have their guns taken from them."

But he amended that shortly after, saying: "It does happen on occasion."

Cramer said her school didn't "really have a huge problem with fights and stuff," but she knew carrying came with risks.

"Fifth graders can get pretty big," she said. "If there were a couple to gang up on us, you know, that'd be a huge problem."

* * *

The educators on hand learned more than the do's and don'ts of carrying a firearm.

Later in Saturday's session, they were coached on the details that experts say make all the difference. Among them: the notion that "drawing and stand your ground" is how to act.

"If you're in a shooting situation, you need to be moving," Noble said.

And not just moving. There are two types of stances — isosceles and weaver — that are most effective, he said.

Then there's the way the gun is gripped .

"Grip is everything," Noble said. "This is the most important part of marksmanship and what we do in conceal carry."

He also covered the proper way to breathe, lines of sight, aiming a gun, even the sound it makes when fired.

"You don't want to anticipate the bang," he said. "But don't squeeze it so slow that you get to shaking."

One aspect that is more important than it sounds, Noble told the group, is the cleaning of a gun.

"You want all the evidence on your side," he said. "If you have a dirty gun, all they can tell is that you have a dirty gun."

It was a lot to think about, Noble acknowledged.

And there's a chance it may never come into play in an Illinois classroom, given that the state is one of 40 where it's illegal to carry a gun on a public school campus.

However, a recent push by the gun rights group Illinois Carry has convinced some school boards to pass a resolution that allows them to decide whether — and which — school staffers could be armed.

"I think one thing that gets missed is that this about local control," said Amanda Geary, superintendent of DeLand-Weldon, which joined Piatt County neighbor Bement in adopting the resolution.

* * *

No one else in attendance could relate to the training quite like Jarad Kimbro could.

He teaches P.E. at Mattoon High School, where in November a student opened fired in the cafeteria, injuring two before being subdued by a female teacher.

"You just never know," Noble said to Kimbro. "You woke up that morning and that was the last thought on your mind. Thirty seconds before, you never thought you'd be involved. Have things changed for you?"

Yes, Kimbro said. Watching the chaos unfold in front of him, with students running so fast they left shoes behind them and the gun popping "like a bag of chips" in the background, left him with a heightened sense of awareness he lives with still.

"That's why I'm here today," he said.

Kimbro said he doesn't know whether teachers should be armed in the classroom. But like Rantoul's Benison, he knew that he wanted to learn as much as possible — just in case.

"We care about our kids," he said. "We want to protect them — that's our highest priority."

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