ST. LOUIS — — Air Force retiree Phil Allen may have few reasons to get truly jubilant about retrieving his mail, but the envelope from Illinois State Police caught his eye and heart.
The 61-year-old from southwestern Illinois received his license to publicly carry a concealed weapon on Monday — something he coveted in a state that in 2013 became the nation's last to allow it.
"I was jumping up and down for joy and ready to do a happy dance," Allen, a licensed concealed-carry instructor in Illinois, said Tuesday from his home in Mascoutah, Ill., east of St. Louis. "It's been a long time coming."
And Allen, along with at least one Illinois lawmaker, already is setting his sights on advancing the state's gun rights.
The five-year licenses sent out so far are largely going to the earliest applicants: firearms instructors and others who submitted electronic fingerprints ahead of the official Jan. 5 launch of the online application process. Illinois State Police have approved roughly 5,000 concealed-carry applications.
Those who applied early were part of a program to "beta test" the system's capacity, state police have said.
Much more work lies ahead: About 46,000 applications have been received, putting the state on track to field nearly 300,000 applications this year — some 100,000 fewer than originally projected.
But Allen and state Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from southern Illinois' Harrisburg, consider the mailings tangible proof that the new law — one enacted after a federal court struck down the state's previous ban on concealed carry — is here to stay.
"I never thought I'd see this day," said Phelps, who went through the state-required training in December and continues to wait for his concealed-carry application to be processed.
He and Allen consider the law to be imperfect, though. They cite a long list of places where concealed handguns are not allowed — such properties as schools, child care facilities, courthouses, government buildings, hospitals, nursing homes, public transportation facilities, buses and trains. Carrying a concealed handgun in a prohibited area is a misdemeanor, with repeated violations perhaps resulting in license revocation.
Talk of easing at least some of those restrictions is underway. Illinois gun owners and activists are to rally Wednesday in Springfield, hoping to coax state lawmakers into eventually relaxing the list of outlawed places for concealed carry.
"We've got a good bill (enacted), so let's see it roll out," said Phelps, who is scheduled to speak during Wednesday's event. "We came a long way, but there are still things we can do to make it better. Sometimes you've got to crawl before you can walk."
Allen said he's had little problem filling his concealed-carry classes, which he teaches with a colleague two to three times a month. He thinks many would-be applicants have been waiting for proof of the law's staying power before investing $150 for the application and roughly as much for the required instruction.
"Now that it's kind of a reality, I think people are going to get off the fence and get into play," Allen said.