Another accidental shooting raises doubts about alderman’s skills as firearm instructor

As a firearm instructor — like, say, Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) — you’re doing something wrong if you manage to shoot yourself, and then have someone in your class get shot a few months later, experts told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Yet in the fall, Curtis managed to shoot himself while cleaning someone else’s gun, and last week his 25-year-old daughter was shot in the leg as someone — either her father or her brother, according to a police source — handed her a gun during a firearm training session Curtis was leading at a South Side church.

"There are three basic rules: keep the gun unloaded until you’re ready to use it, never point the gun at anything you don’t want to shoot, and keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association and a licensed firearm instructor. "He would’ve had to break all three of those for somebody to get shot."

Other gun instructors, who asked not to be identified by name, concurred with Pearson.

"It would be like lightning striking twice. Actually, it should never happen," said a south suburban instructor.

"There is definitely some carelessness or negligence going on," said another instructor.

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The accidental shootings — which resulted in minor hand surgery for the City Council member and a hospital trip for his daughter — have gotten attention this week after Curtis told a reporter his previously enthusiastic support for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reelection campaign was wavering because the mayor had not reached out to express her concern after his self-inflicted wound.

State law does not mandate an instructor’s license be revoked unless the instructor has committed a felony, is subject to a protective order, or violates training requirements. Pearson said training violations that the Illinois State Police typically find are related to the length of training courses.

Pearson said multiple training accidents involving the same instructor are exceptionally rare.

Instructors are not required to report accidental discharges during training sessions, a state police spokeswoman said.

ISP, which has the authority to issue and revoke firearm licenses, is notified of issues with instructors when someone files a complaint. State police did not immediately respond when asked whether any complaints had been filed against Curtis, a former Chicago Housing Authority police officer who has held an instructor’s license since 1993, according to state records.

While Chicago Police responded to both incidents involving Curtis, Pearson said an accidental discharge of a firearm during a training session would likely only draw police attention if someone was injured. Chicago Police did not respond when asked if the department would automatically report an accidental shooting involving a licensed instructor to ISP.

Accounts of the incidents in the press include other details that struck Pearson as problematic. Curtis told police he shot himself while cleaning someone else’s weapon, but Pearson said a gun should never be cleaned while loaded.

And the fact that Curtis’s daughter was shot during training at a church also stuck out, Pearson said. A church wouldn’t have the ventilation or "backstop" behind targets necessary to safely operate as a firing range, and firearms should never have live ammunition for classroom training.

"All instructors who do this job hate people who don’t do it right, because it makes us all look bad," Pearson said.