Eric "Scott" Pulaski felt like he won the lottery this past week when he received an envelope in the mail from the Illinois State Police.
"I received the best gift I could get," Pulaski said. "It definitely made my day."
The Alton resident and firearms instructor was one of 5,000 that Illinois State Police mailed a license to publicly carry a concealed weapon. The first round of licenses was approved weeks ahead of schedule and on Feb. 28 licenses were sent to gun-bearers. Illinois was the last state in the nation to pass a conceal-carry law.
"(My license) came in the mail Monday," he said.
Gary Hawkins, who also received his license on Monday, said the first thing he did was prove to himself it was real — he left his house carrying his gun.
"It felt great, but it felt odd, too," Hawkins said.
The first round of licenses was sent to security guards, firearms trainers and other residents who paid extra to be fingerprinted so they could move ahead of the line.
Pulaski, who owns Piasa Armory, 115 Market St., applied for his conceal-carry permit in December. He said he was able to apply a month before the general public because he is a firearms instructor who needed no additional training and security background check.
Hawkins, a firearms instructor who operates Sure Shot Safety, said he's been licensed to carry in Missouri, Utah, Florida and Arizona for years and although it felt strange to carry, he quickly acclimated to the process.
"Besides being the last state to approve the law, it's also one of the strictest, " he said.
In Utah, where he also teaches firearms classes, he said those with a license can carry in most public places, including schools.
"Conceal-carry license-holders are law-abiding citizens," Hawkins said.
He said he installed a gun safe in his vehicle because he knows there are places that are off-limits to concealed-carry.
"Your vehicle is your safety zone no matter where you are, but you also need to keep your gun safe when you're not carrying it," he said.
Mike Byrd, owner of Trader Guns and Diamonds, 214 W. Third St., said since the first of the year his business has picked up tremendously — so much that he hasn't had time to get his conceal-carry license yet.
"I've been so busy, but I do plan to get mine when I can find the time," Byrd said.
Byrd said many of his customers are pleased the state finally passed a law to carry concealed weapons.
Prior to applying for the license, which costs $150 for five years, applicants are required to take the 16-hour firearms training, or eight hours for veterans, with an Illinois State Police-approved instructor. The cost for the 16-hour course starts around $200. Visit https://ccl4illinois.com for information on applying for a license.