In Virginia, It’s Easier to Be an Armed Private Cop than a Barber

Carrying a badge as an armed “special conservator of the peace” requires 40 hours of training in Virginia. But getting a license to cut someone’s hair takes 1,500 hours of training—almost 40 times as many hours. Welcome to the absurd world of occupational regulations.

Currently, Virginia law lets private citizens become SCOPs, which have the authority to arrest people and even carry a badge and a gun. SCOPs can also identify themselves as “police” and use the Commonwealth seal on their badges and uniforms. A bill passed by the legislature would raise the minimum amount of training to 130 hours for armed SCOPs.

Yet even with this increase, many far less dangerous occupations have to endure a greater regulatory burden. Licenses for nail technicians, also known as manicurists, require 150 hours of experience. Barbers and cosmetologists have to complete at least 1,500 hours of training before they can work. Midwives need two years of training, even though that occupation isn’t licensed in neighboring Maryland and North Carolina. Virginia forces many aspiring construction contractors to lose more than two years to experience before they can obtain their licenses. Yet Maryland and Kentucky do not license several of these contractor occupations, like drywall installers and painters.

A 2012 report by the Institute for Justice found that Virginia has the eighth most burdensome licensing laws and is the 11th “most extensively and onerously licensed state” in the entire nation. According to anew study by the Brookings Institution, more than a fifth of all workers need either a license or certification to work in Old Dominion. That has damaging consequences for the economy. As the Brookings study estimates, “the restrictions from occupational licensing can result in up to 2.85 million fewer jobs nationwide, with an annual cost to consumers of $203 billion.”

The difference in hours makes no sense from the perspective of public health and safety. It makes sense only from a political perspective—where vocational schools and market incumbents benefit from higher entry barriers. It’s time Virginia take a new look at opportunities its occupational regulations are crushing.

— Nick Sibilla

Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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