I have had a number of
inquiries about the requirements necessary to get into the field of Firearms
Identification. The job requirements will vary from state to state but you will find that
most forensic laboratories require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in varying fields of
science. Some of the different disciplines of forensic science have stricter requirements
The Commonwealth of
Kentucky's minimum requirements for the class title, Firearms and Tool
Mark Examiner, as
stated in the official class specification are as follows.
"Graduate of a
college or university with a bachelor's degree in the physical, biological, or forensic
sciences, criminal justice, engineering or mathematics. Experience in firearms
identification or tool mark identification will substitute for the required college on a
The reason that experience
can be substituted for education is because there are a lot of firearm examiners without
degrees that have been on the job for many years. A large number of examiners without
degrees are police officers that transferred into the field and received firearms
identification training from their departments.
Kentucky has three different
classifications for firearm examiners. You start out as a "Firearms and
Examiner", after one year you move up to "Firearms and Tool
Senior" and after being on the job for three years you can apply for the
"Forensic Scientist Specialist" classification. With prior experience it is
possible to be hired in at the more advanced levels.
When I was hired,
over 20 years ago, the only requirement was a bachelor's degree. My Bachelor of Science degree was
in Police Administration and I also received an Associate of Art's degree in
If you are not sure which
discipline of forensic science you want to make a career of you should look into getting a
degree in Forensic Science. This is usually the equivalent of a Chemistry degree and you
can use this type of degree to go into just about any of the different disciplines of
There are a number of
colleges and universities that have degree programs in Forensic Science. The one that
comes to mind is Eastern Kentucky University. An overview of their Forensics program can
be found at:
EKU Forensic Science Curriculum
We have a large number of
employees in the KSP Forensic Laboratories System who have received their degrees in
forensic science from EKU. Several have also participated as interns in our lab.
Internships offer an excellent way to get to know the personnel and procedures of a lab
and give those that participate an inside edge when it comes to obtaining a full-time
position in forensic science.
Don't expect to make a lot
of money working in any of the disciplines of forensic science. Coming right out of
college you will only get entry level pay. In Kentucky, the starting base salary for a
firearms and tool mark examiner is a whopping $22,000. You do get a 5% raise after 6
months, a 5-10% raise after another year, and are eligible for another 10% raise after 3
at other labs for someone without prior experience will range from approximately $20,000 to
$35,000 dollars a year.
Now the fun part begins.
Once you get hired you will immediately start working the real involved murder cases.
begin a very involved training program that will probably last at least 2 years. During
this time you will receive training in various aspects of firearms and tool mark
identification under the supervision of an experienced firearms and tool mark examiner.
Training programs vary but
Reading, reading, and more
reading of text books in the fields of law, firearms identification, ammunition, wound
Training in proper evidence
handling, firearms, ammunition, lots and lots of microscopy, firearm
One week courses are
provided by the FBI that deal with a number of topics including Crime Scene Search,
Gunpowder and Primer Residue, Specialized Techniques in Firearms Identification.
Tours of firearm and
ammunition manufacturing plants/factories.
Expert witness testimony
Seminars, schools, lectures,
yadda, yadda, yadda.