Forensic Ballistics Career Guide

Forensic ballistics is the examination of evidence relating to firearms at a crime scene and the effects of the projectiles of an explosive device. A forensic ballistics expert matches the bullets, fragments, or other evidence with the weapons of alleged suspects or others involved with a case. Experts may be asked to explain their findings to a jury during criminal or civil trials.

Forensic Ballistics Expert Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

A ballistics expert understands the different marks that firearms leave on bullets when they are fired, including the marks of the rifling on a barrel and other striations on the projectile. They may also perform modeling of the scene to identify where a firearm was used and perform chemical analysis to determine when a gun was used. Ballistics experts generally cannot demonstrate their findings in court, but they can display graphics or other results of their analysis.

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How to Become a Forensic Ballistics Expert: Requirements and Qualifications

Ballistics experts generally follow similar coursework, such as biology and physics, to other forensic scientists. Similar to accident reconstruction experts, ballistics experts’ coursework may include trigonometry, chemistry, metallurgy, and the use of computer-based modeling programs. A bachelor’s degree in forensic science or ballistic forensic science is common. Aspiring ballistic experts may be required to complete post-bachelor’s training to keep up with the latest trends.

Forensic Ballistics Expert Job Training

Novice ballistics experts should be prepared to initially work in a supporting role, working alongside a seasoned firearms analyst to gain hands-on training. Training may occur over several years, depending on the employer, and will allow novices to gain experience in identifying firearms, handling evidence, searching crime scenes, and providing expert testimony in court.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Prospective firearms experts should have strong written and oral communication skills, as they will be expected to write detailed reports and to testify in court. Individuals with law enforcement experience may find it beneficial in securing employment as a forensic ballistics expert.

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Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Ballistics analyst
  • Firearm examiner
  • Firearm and tool mark examiner
  • Forensics firearms analyst

Career Opportunities and Employers

Forensic ballistics experts typically work for local government, state government, or the federal government, including such organizations as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in their crime labs. Other experts offer private consulting services.

Forensic Ballistics Expert Salary and Outlook

Ballistics experts generally work in the forensic science division of police departments at the federal, state, or county level. Because of their specialization, they may be able to obtain positions with higher salaries than entry-level forensic science technicians. In addition to the public sector, private consultants also perform work on behalf of firearms manufacturers and law firms and earn salaries in the upper five figures as they gain experience.

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Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What type of work schedule do forensic firearms examiners generally work?
Firearms examiners typically work full-time, although they may be on-call when necessary.

In what kind of environment does a ballistics expert typically work?
Experts should be prepared to work irregular hours, if necessary, and to travel to crime scenes regardless of the time of day or the weather conditions.

What other type of work can a ballistics expert perform?
Experts can often complete such tasks as restoring serial numbers, examining and identifying tool marks, and determining the firing distance between a gun’s muzzle and the target.

Additional Resources

The Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners – A resource for ballistics experts, including the latest news, expert referrals, and ballistics links.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives – An overview of the latest automated firearms ballistics technology.

The International Ballistics Society – A resource for firearms ballistics analysts worldwide.


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References:
1. The Association of Firearms and Tool Mark Examiners: http://www.afte.org/
2. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives:
https://www.atf.gov/content/Firearms/firearms-enforcement/NIBIN/automated-firearms-ballistics-technology

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.