A suspect's fingerprints can lead police to answers and so can a gun's "fingerprints."
Ballistic experts, also known as firearm examiners, use their analytical nature and eye for detail to catch suspects who have used guns and weapons in a crime.
What You'll Do as a Ballistics Expert
Ballistics experts often work for police forces, but it's becoming more common for them to be hired by private agencies as well. Guns leave ballistic "fingerprints," which result from the weapon's individual twists and grooves that spin the bullet as it shoots. Here's what you can expect to do if you become a ballistics expert:
- Analyze guns and weapons used to commit crimes
- Analyze powder markings and bullet holes at the crime scene
- Use computer databases and lasers at the scene
- Collect, study and sort evidence and determine its importance to an investigation
- Testify in court and serve as a witness
Ballistics Expert Qualifications
Educational requirements can vary by state, but in most cases a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or related sciences is required to work in a forensics lab.
However, some forensics laboratories may accept experience with firearms as a sufficient substitution. Occasionally police officers gain further instruction and enter the field.
Because there is a growing interest in the field of forensic science, competition is likely to heat up. Aspiring ballistics experts with a degree in criminal justice or forensics may have the best chances of being hired.
Salary and Outlook
Ballistics experts are specialists in the field of forensic science. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for ballistics experts, who are classified under forensic science technicians, is $52,840.
Job growth isn't expected to be significant for forensic science technicians—just 6 percent through 2022.
Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.