The growing number of private citizens interested in the use of firearms for self-defense both fosters and is fostered by the rise of the civilian gun training (cottage) industry. The civilian firearms training industry helps to solve the problem of teaching individuals with little or no personal (e.g., family, military, or law-enforcement) background in firearms to use them effectively for self-defense, or to improve the skills of those that do have a background in firearms.
But the proliferation of civilian gun trainers in the 40 years since Col. Jeff Cooper taught his first open-enrollment American Pistol Institute classes at Gunsite Ranch in 1976 itself potentially creates new problems to be addressed. The most pressing of these is the issue of quality, both from the perspective of (some in) the industry and for (some) consumers.
In this series of posts, I have examined two different vehicles for quality assurance in the services provided by occupational groups: professionalization (as well as semi-professionalism) and state licensing.
As some astute commenters on my previous posts observed, both professionalization and licensing create monopolistic conditions which can drive prices up by limiting competition at the same time they drive quality down by limiting entry into an occupation.
Licensing is also strongly resisted by many (most?) gun trainers (and advocates of training) because it requires government involvement where none is necessary.
But there are other ways to promote quality with less or no state involvement. Certification, for example. Although the terms are often used synonymously, certification is actually quite distinct from licensing.
According to labor economist Morris Kleiner, “A certification permits any person to perform the relevant tasks, but the government agency administers an examination and certifies those who have passed and the level of skill or knowledge.” Crucially, “Consumers of the product or service can then choose whether to hire a certified worker or not. In the case of occupational licensing, it is illegal for anyone without a license to perform the task. For example, travel agents and mechanics are generally certified, but not licensed” (emphasis added, p. 191). 
Because of the negative monopolistic effects created by licensing, Kleiner suggests certification as a more desirable policy.
“This potential substitute for licensing allows consumers or employers to choose whether they are willing to pay a higher wage for someone with greater state-documented skills relative to someone with fewer job characteristics. . . . Thus, it offers an intermediate choice between the extremes of no state role in qualifications at all and the absolute requirement of having a license before working at certain occupations” (p. 200).
The movement from mandatory licensing to optional certification opens up a number of possibilities in addition to the government agency administration highlighted by Kleiner.
In my post on licensing of civilian firearms trainers I noted that many state governments delegate the responsibility for certification of concealed carry instructors to a non-governmental organization – the National Rifle Association – which becomes a quasi-regulatory agency.
But while licensing is always by a government agency, certification does not have to be conducted or even delegated by the state. For example, in a small tennis racket stringing business I own, I am a “Certified Stringer” and “Master Racquet Technician” – certifications given to me by a private, for-profit association, the United States Racquet Stringers Association.
In the world of gun training, the biggest certifier of firearms instructors has long been the private, not-for-profit National Rifle Association. Nationally, the NRA Training Department currently claims a “network of more than 125,000 instructors, 8,000 coaches and 2,200 training counselors.”
This sort of private or voluntary certification is a way of addressing informational asymmetries in the market for specialized services, but the old refrain caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — still applies. You can go to an ASE Certified Mechanic or not, and you can go to a USRSA Certified Stringer or not. Whichever you go to, you the consumer are ultimately responsible for determining the quality of the services you receive.
To wit, the “world’s worst firearms trainer” was stripped of his NRA firearms instructor certification, but that does not prevent him from teaching firearms courses, as many people have continued to observe two years later.
In addition to the NRA, there are a number of other private, for profit associations and businesses that certify instructors. These are a major focus of my research on the civilian gun training industry.
In my next couple of posts, I highlight one such non-governmental effort to train the trainers: Tom Givens’s Rangemaster Instructor Development and Certification course, which I observed back in May.
 Morris M. Kleiner, “Occupational Licensing.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 14:4 (2000): 189–202.