Occupational Licensing of Civilian Firearms Instructors?

In my ongoing consideration of the rise of the civilian gun training industry, my last two posts considered the possibility of the professionalization – or at least the semi-professionalism – of firearms instructors as an occupational group.

As the path of professionalization seems unlikely, at least in the short run, other ways of regulating or organizing the industry can be explored. Here I consider occupational licensing.

According to labor economist Morris Kleiner, “Occupational licensing is defined as a process where entry into an occupation requires the permission of the government, and the state requires some demonstration of a minimum degree of competency” (p. 191).

Universally licensed occupations include dentists, lawyers, barbers, and cosmetologists. “To work in these occupations,” Kleiner notes, “all persons must have a license” (p. 194). [1]

Figure from https://curiousleftist.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/economic-equality-vs-efficiency/

Over the same time that unionization has declined in the United States, occupational licensing has increased. In fact, today a much higher share of workers are affected by occupational licensing than unions or even the minimum wage (Kleiner, p. 190).

Occupational licensing is driven by the desire of the government, practitioners, and consumers (in varying degrees at different times for different occupations) “to ‘eliminate charlatans, incompetents or frauds’ and ‘protect the safety and welfare’ of consumers.”[2]

To my knowledge, no local, state, or federal law requires a license to do business as a civilian firearms instructor.

To be licensed to cut my hair, Carlos Carvana of The Oval Office had to graduate from a 1,528 hour program at a North Carolina Board-approved barber school, pass an apprentice barber licensing exam, work for a year as an apprentice barber, pass a registered barber exam, and renew his license annually.

To teach a course in tactical defensive carbine for urban home use, an instructor only needs to put up a sign that says, to again quote Ken Campbell of Gunsite, “I are a firearms trainer.”

Photo of Carlos Carvana from Forsyth Family magazine, http://www.forsythfamilymagazine.com/the-oval-office-hair-grooming-for-the-man-in-charge/

The one possible exception to occupational licensing requirements for firearms instructors is the case of state concealed carry permit instructors.

I do not have information for every state, but in Texas and North Carolina at least, anyone teaching the state mandated concealed carry course must be licensed by the state. Although both states call their process “certification,” being a concealed carry instructor in either state requires the person to receive state-sanction, which is the definition of licensing.

Licensing here is designed to ensure that every consumer who purchases (indeed, must purchase) the state-mandated concealed carry course from a licensed instructor receives a somewhat consistent (if not necessarily high quality) product.

That said, a more common pattern for regulating concealed carry instructors is to delegate responsibility for certification to “nationally recognized organizations,” particularly the National Rifle Association. As I have noted previously, following Jennifer Carlson, this is very interesting because the NRA is effectively acting as a quasi-regulatory agency governing concealed carry in the United States.

In the end, occupational licensing will never be a preferred option for the gun training industry in the United States. The libertarian bent within the gun culture often shows through in terms of dealing with the issue of quality in gun training. In a free market for these services, the cream will rise to the top and the dregs will sink to the bottom.

At the same time, as economists Marc Law and Sukkoo Kim observe, “The desire to eliminate charlatans and quacks from a given profession is more than mere rhetoric for both the practitioner and the consumer” (p. 728). This is especially true “when the consequences of poor purchases are great” (p. 727). [2]

Thus, options for regulating civilian firearms instructors that go beyond an entirely free market but fall short of mandatory licensing exist. In posts to follow I consider two of these: certification and apprenticeship.


[1] Morris M. Kleiner, “Occupational Licensing.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 14:4 (2000): 189–202.

[2] Marc T. Law and Sukkoo Kim, “Specialization and Regulation: The Rise of Professionals and the Emergence of Occupational Licensing Regulation.” The Journal of Economic History 65:3 (2005), p. 725.


  1. New Mexico requirements. “Firearms training course instructors who are approved by the department shall not be required to complete a firearms training course pursuant to Paragraph (10) of Subsection A of this section.”

    Click to access Concealed-Carry-Statutes-Rules-and-Regulations.pdf

    Actually, the rise of licensing, i.e., the need to get approval from the government to work, bothers me. I’m not sure that is a great solution. Perhaps a guild type system run by those who do the work? No system is perfect. Meanwhile, caveat emptor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps David can draw parallels with college faculties, which are a sort of a guild system, i.e., one studies under mentors, gets an advanced degree, and then rises through the ranks. Usually. Or, bails out of academia. I are a government scientist….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to measure the effectiveness of formal defensive firearms training, i.e., a comparison of defensive gun incidents experienced by those with and without training. After all, this whole discussion might revolve around whether it is even valuable to formalize defensive gun training.

    I once did a bit of a literature search on the effectiveness of driver’s ed and found several papers saying it was ineffective (i.e., comparing crash rates of those who did or did not take driver’s ed). In that case, some of the arguments about ineffectiveness were that it is a one time class and the training rapidly wears off. In the case of my CHL in New Mexico, there are two and four year interval required refresher classes which include range proficiency. Like the training we do in our high hazard facilities, repeated exposure to drills and training is a requirement. Or, as we say in this context, train like you fight, fight like you train. Often.

    Liked by 1 person

    • http://blog.lawofselfdefense.com/2017/07/17/thanks-to-tom-givens-for-the-kind-mention/?mc_cid=e028407aa9&mc_eid=eb842de8ff

      Kind of on point. Givens distills his student’s actual shooting incidents (as opposed to the “brandish and the guy runs” incidents, I assume) and points out the technical skills required in most cases were minimal.

      On the driver’s ed parallel. I think teaching age-appropriate, non-political basic gun handling safety in schools (4 rules or NRA’s 10) would help form a societal baseline of “gun safety” that wouldn’t really require “refresher.” It’s just passive knowledge, like being taught to stop at red lights, as opposed to learning a physical skill like parallel parking.

      I forgot to mention (and can’t remember if David brought it up) that Andrew Branca is offering “Instructor Certification” in his “Law of Self-Defense” curricula. Expansion of his sort of training, which should bring down the cost over time, can only be a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom’s comments were sort of what I was getting at. As he says, good initial and sustained periodic training, drawing from concealment with a weapon you are familiar with as an automatic act, and getting good hits are most of it.

        I like his comment about fantasy camps but can see David cringing…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My parents were both county deputies here in NC in the past. They had to go qualify with there duty firearms to be re sworn each year. If I had stayed with the company I was working armed security with I would have had to requalify each year to maintain my license. That would be an interesting study to read Khal however I doubt, unless the defensive shooter is a CHL holder, the question ever gets asked.


  4. The NRA doesn’t regulate anything, submit an iron clad ethics complaint against one of their 125K+ instructors and if it is a friend of the person running the investigation they sweep it under the rug. Give me a break Professor Yamane.
    By the way several states require instructors to be licensed by the state. Illinois, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada has some sort of regulatory issue and there are several others, the point is when you say “to my knowledge” you don’t know what you don’t know and throwing things out there like this is a little ridiculous. Do a little background before publishing a blog post and you would know these things.


    • Thanks for the comment. This series of posts concerns firearms instructors who teach civilians not concealed carry instructors. I simply wanted to acknowledge the fact that licensing does exist within this one part of the overall universe of civilian firearms instructors. Giving some examples to make the point seemed fair to me. Saying “I do not have information for every state” seems to me an appropriate thing to say to signal to readers this information is incomplete.

      That said, incomplete is not the same as incorrect. By “licensed by the state” I mean the instructor must take a specific course offered only by the state — as in North Carolina and Texas. By delegate responsibility, I mean that the state accepts instructors based on their certification by some non-state organization like the NRA. For example, as I noted in a previous post, Virginia allows a CCW permit applicant to fulfill their training requirement by (here quoting Virginia Code): “Completing any National Rifle Association firearms safety or training course.”

      It is further interesting to note that even in a state like North Carolina which has its own specific curriculum that must be learned and taught by CCW instructors, a prerequisite of being a CCW instructor according to NC Administrative Code is: “The instructor shall hold one of the following certifications:

      *”Specific Instructor Certification-Firearms” issued by the Commission;
      *Private Protective Services Firearms Trainer Certification; or
      *”Firearms Instructor Certification” in Personal Protection, Basic Pistol, or Police Firearms issued by the National Rifle Association”

      So, even in NC, the NRA plays a role in regulating CCW instruction. I think it is fair to call that, following Carlson, “quasi-regulatory.”

      Again, I have not done this for every state. I will eventually do it for every state when I focus my attention down from civilian firearms training in general to CCW training in particular. Now, if I were publishing a blog post about CCW training nationally, I would want to know more before I say more.

      I would also add that publishing a blog post about my admittedly ongoing research is not the same as publishing research. And even published research is partial. So it is hard to know how much information you need before you can write something publicly about a topic.

      Finally, and I do appreciate your comment for bringing these issues to light, it is interesting to think about the fact that many states delegate responsibility for licensing CCW instructors to the NRA if the NRA itself does not do a good job of regulating the instructors they certify. If you have more information on that, I welcome seeing it so I can include it in my ongoing consideration of the issue.


  5. The desire to eliminate charlatans and quacks from a given profession is more than mere rhetoric for both the practitioner and the consumer” (p. 728). This is especially true “when the consequences of poor purchases are great” (p. 727). [2]

    I think part of the problem is there is little testing and consequences are rare. If you have bad training, mediocre training, or excellent training, how would you know? Other people will say you had bad training, or theirs was better, but that could just be market chatter. What objective measure is there? The tests are (comparatively) rare. Even when they occur we don’t really have a means to say what extent training vs individual factors vs luck helped them survive. With military and (to a lesser extent) Law Enforcement we have large groups that are trained a certain way with a higher rate of real life tests. Enough perhaps to say “this training change was associated with x fewer dead cops in the same number of shoot outs”. But even that would be contentious and fads come and go even among LEO and Military. Reading old training is interesting for that reason sometimes you can see something coming back into fashion.

    You might find the martial arts community an interesting analogue. They face the same problem with few tests and competitions stylized perhaps to the point where the sport and the art are no longer usefully the same (See Judo). In general their response has been one of lineage, certification, and borrowing from military (Krav Maga). But charlatans abound and I doubt that will change. I think firearms will be in the same boat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really great observation. IIRC, Tom Givens said that a minority of his students (and perhaps most of his student?) who won their gunfights did not have any “training” beyond the basic concealed carry class he taught. That the decisive factor in their success was they followed the first rule of gunfighting: have a gun. And perhaps also their willingness to use it. So, it does raise the question you do about measuring the effect of training using real life data.

      Beyond these “positive outcomes” in defensive gun uses, I am interested also in whether those with more/better training have fewer “negative outcomes” (as Claude Werner calls it). Any idea?


      • All the options I can think of are cost prohibitive and come with big external validity issues. A shoot-no shoot test, designed for civilian situations, would say something. A role play situation with simunitions would tell you something. Putting differently trained citizens to tests like that in numbers that give sufficient statistical power would be interesting. The problem is both of these are better suited for police who have to go into tense situations where civilians should see what’s on the wall and get out of dodge. The average citizen should “pass” by leaving the bad situation and calling the cops which isn’t very useful for our purposes.

        So that leaves us with the qualification shooting courses that the police have. One of the California counties does this with CC licensing, citizens have to pass the same qualification courses the police do. If they weren’t using it as a pretense, with the real goal to make getting your CCL harder due to the expense and inconvenience, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It would still be an artificial test and probably set the bar higher than it absolutely needs to be (have a gun, know how to be safe with it, be willing to use it, know the legal guidelines) but demonstrating a level of competence might not be a bad thing. Of course then you would get teaching to the test with all its baggage.

        I’ve toyed with an idea that I know the cops would hate: Have the cops themselves teach the courses. They would object to it not least because they are taught that giving legal advice is dangerous to them and their department and they would have to teach the legal guidelines for citizens. On the other hand they are the ones enforcing the law, if a Cop can’t tell you how to act legally then something is very wrong. It’d also be a place for some amount of co-ordination between the cops and the CCLs. CCLs are not deputies and should not be treated as such, but having a standard surrender protocol I could see as very useful. The only example of such a thing is the Liberty University’s Active Shooter video. It’s not great. I really think that more co-ordination between the CCLs and the Cops would be a good thing. Maybe as an advanced course?


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