How To Become A Ballistics Expert

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 3 minute read


Despite the fact that weapons have been in common use for more than 500 years, firearms identification is a relatively new innovation. Weapons and ballistics analysis is a relatively new discipline with just a few decades under its belt. The popularity of television series like CSI has helped to increase the visibility of this profession.

Investigating crime scenes using forensic guns requires extensive training and experience in this specialized field. To help solve crimes involving guns, these well-trained investigators can utilize their wide knowledge and expertise to gather evidence regarding the perpetrators’ methods and identify the weapon they used.

For example, a bullet may be traced back to a shooter’s location, distance from the target, and the kind of weapon used by matching the fired bullet to the barrel of a specific rifle.


Chemistry, biology, and physics form the foundation of most undergraduate forensic science degree programs. For example, some programs include all of the above categories, while others specialize in one or two.

To figure out how things move and interact with one another, ballistics professionals need a solid foundation in physics as well as a working knowledge of chemistry (to identify chemical residues associated with firearms examinations).

They also require a solid grasp of mathematics in order to calculate things like bullet speed and trajectory angles. Ballistics professionals must have a basic understanding of biology and human anatomy, because bullets frequently pass through their targets.

The student should look for a college or institution that offers a forensic science program. The following are examples of common curricula:

  • Principles of Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Criminology

Next, students should pursue an apprenticeship with forensic experts who have already completed their bachelor’s degree. On-site instruction in evidence collecting and documentation and other procedural norms is provided to apprentices. Prior to specialization, students at this level often obtain a broad education in all subjects.

This training is essential for anybody hoping to become a guns and ballistics specialist. Ballistics competency can be attained in as little as three years of on-the-job training. These are some of the areas covered in this course:

  • Ammunition
  • Expert Witness Testimony
  • Evidence Handling
  • Firearms Identification
  • Wound Ballistics
  • Microscopy
  • Gunpowder Residue

Many gun identification training classes are offered by the FBI and the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agency throughout the year.

The Association of Firearm and ToolMark Examiners (AFTEM) serves as a unified voice in this profession (AFTE). To join, you must be “persons of integrity” who have received “sufficient instruction in the inspection of guns and/or toolmarks” at one of the organization’s six levels of membership.


In the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is just one category for Forensic Science Technicians (FST). A wide range of people are involved in the forensics industry, hence this is an umbrella term.

In 2012, the BLS indicated that the annual median wage was $52,840, with a growth/change rate of 6% until 2022, according to their data. Crime scene investigators might earn anything from $37,332 to $100,465 per year, according to a different source. Of course, pay vary from state to state and from one employee to the next.

The majority of ballistics specialists are employed by law enforcement agencies on the municipal, state, or federal level, although they can also operate as independent consultants or contractors.

Bottom Line

Watching CSI may inspire you to do action, rather than just watch. To become a forensic investigator, you must first earn a degree in forensic science, then complete comprehensive training in weapons and ballistics, and then pass a stringent background check.

In the end, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a full-fledged crime scene investigator!

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