STERLING – Thirteen people, two women and the rest men, sit around a U-shaped arrangement of tables in the entry room of Sterling’s Sinnissippi Rod and Gun Club, waiting patiently while Ed Branch hands out papers.
“What was the most important thing from the first day?” Ed asks the group.
“Safety,” they reply in unison.
It’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday, and this is day 2 of a 2-day concealed carry class taught by Trinity Firearms Training.
The group is a little smaller than normal for a class, John Anzelmo, one of the men in charge, explains. Usually they have closer to 18, with two to four women.
The itinerary Anzelmo hands over explains clearly the order in which things are handled.
Day 1 covers basic pistol safety. Day 2 covers the intricacies of Illinois’ new concealed-carry law.
Both days’ schedules end the same way: with lunch.
Sitting in the room, watching while students are handed workbooks and listen intently as their instructor flips through a Power Point presentation, it’s hard not to be reminded of a driver’s ed class.
But that’s really sort of what this is. Where driver’s ed teaches someone how to act within the law while handling a dangerous, and potentially fatal, piece of large machinery, so, too, does a concealed carry class. The piece of machinery addressed here, however, is just smaller.
Trinity Firearms Training is a long time in the making, Anzelmo explains. The three main men who run it (Howard Melchi, Ed Branch, and John Anzelmo) are longtime friends. They come from different backgrounds, and they’re all churchgoing men, Anzelmo says. Hence, trinity.
A fourth man who helps to run the course, former Whiteside County State’s Attorney Gary Spencer, helps with the law portion of the class.
Samantha Groharing, 70, came with her husband, Richard, 72.
“I was a fraud investigator, and so, before I retired, I had to go into the southern area of Chicago, ... and I saw more than one event occur where I would have felt better protected had I had a weapon,” she says. “I know how to use one; it’s just been a very long time. And so when they passed the legislation, I started looking into it.”
The two live on a farm near Thomson, she says.
“You know, you never know what’s going to come knocking at your door or what you may encounter on several acres of land,” she says. “It’s for self protection. ... I think things are getting worse, not better. I decided not to be a victim anymore.”
Connie Mattson, 71, of Sterling, came here with her husband, too, she explains.
She and Samantha chat happily near the wall where the class organizers have laid out snacks and coffee.
“I’m so glad I’m here,” Samantha says. “And we’ve had fun, haven’t we?”
Connie nods and laughs.
“We have,” Connie says.
The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, allows people to apply for a concealed carry permit once they have successfully completed an approved course.
Trinity Firearms Training has been offering courses since October.
Since Jan. 5, more than 23,000 Illinoisans have applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Of that number, more than 400 applications have come from Lee, Whiteside, Ogle, Bureau, and Carroll counties.