Career Information

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 than others.

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 year-for-year basis."

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 Tool Mark Examiner", after one year you move up to "Firearms and Tool Mark Examiner 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 Criminalistics.

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 forensic science.

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.

The Depressing Part, PAY!

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 years.

Starting Salaries at other labs for someone without prior experience will range from approximately $20,000 to $35,000 dollars a year.

Still Listening?

Now the fun part begins. Once you get hired you will immediately start working the real involved murder cases.


You will 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 most include:

Reading, reading, and more reading of text books in the fields of law, firearms identification, ammunition, wound ballistics, etc.

Training in proper evidence handling, firearms, ammunition, lots and lots of microscopy, firearm assembly/disassembly. 

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 training.

Seminars, schools, lectures, yadda, yadda, yadda.


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