Being a Forensic Ballistics Expert

Forensics officer using swab to collect evidence from window with bullet hole
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It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Perhaps you've seen them on CSI or Mythbusters. Batman even tried his hand at it in The Dark Knight. Forensic ballistics experts can be found throughout popular culture, on television, in books, and in movies. With the popularity of so many crime shows and films, it's easy to see why someone would be interested in such a fascinating career as a ballistics expert.

What Forensic Ballistic Experts Do

Forensic ballistics analysis is a specialty within forensic science. Like most forensic investigators, forensic ballistics experts perform the bulk of their investigative work in a laboratory. The evidence they analyze, however, is collected in the field.

Ballistics experts may examine a crime scene themselves, or they may simply analyze evidence submitted to them by other crime scene investigators, detectives, or police officers.

Forensics ballistics experts specialize in looking at anything that has to do with firearms, from the identification of a specific round or weapon to determining the trajectory of a bullet. Ballistics experts can identify the caliber of a firearm's round and, with the help of national databases, can learn where the bullet was manufactured and possibly even the gun that fired it.

Additionally, forensic ballistics experts may be involved in crime scene mapping. With computer-aided design programs, photogrammetry and laser measuring tools, ballistics experts can determine the location from which a firearm's round was fired or the direction it traveled, making the search for physical evidence easier. These crime scene maps can be used to create diagrams for police reports or courtroom presentations.

Ballistics experts may be called to lift fingerprints from spent shell casings or help collect DNA samples from expended rounds.

The job of a forensic ballistics expert often includes:

  • Collecting evidence
  • Performing gunshot residue analysis
  • Photographing crime scenes
  • Analyzing firearms evidence
  • Identifying the caliber of bullets
  • Identifying the type of firearm used
  • Firing test rounds
  • Writing reports
  • Providing courtroom testimony

Ballistics experts can expect to work standard business hours, but they may be called to a crime scene at any hour. Often, the scenes they investigate are grisly, due to the nature of the crimes they respond to.

Most forensic ballistic experts work for large police or sheriffs offices or a state or federal crime lab. With experience, though, ballistics experts can earn lucrative salaries working as consultants or contractors in the private sector. Many experts work for attorneys or private investigative firms.

Education and Skill Requirements

Like other forensic science technicians, forensic ballistics experts must typically have a bachelor's degree or relevant comparable experience in the natural sciences. Specifically, a strong understanding of physics is necessary.

In addition to a college education, ballistics experts must undergo extensive training and maintain a strong working knowledge of all areas related to ballistics, such as types of firearms, types of bullets, muzzle velocities and gunshot residue, to name just a few.

The Job Outlook

All areas within forensic science investigations are expected to see higher than average growth over the next several years. It is due largely in part to continued advances in technology and an increased public interest in, and demand for, better analysis of evidence.

The Average Salary

Annual salary potential for ballistics experts can range between around $30,00 to more than $80,00, with an average salary near $55,000 per year.

Getting Started on a Career

It's important to remember that forensic ballistics experts, like bloodstain pattern analysts and other forensic specialists, often start out as general forensic science technicians and work their way into a specialty.

Entry-level positions as a ballistics expert, then, will be few and far between. Instead, those interested in a ballistics expert career will want to consider entering the workforce as a forensic technician and gain the required training and experience on the job.

How to Determine if a Career as a Forensic Ballistics Expert is Right for You

If you are interested in a criminology career and have a fond appreciation for firearms or physics, a career as a forensic ballistics expert may be a great choice for you. The work of a ballistics expert provides the perfect blend of fieldwork, science, and problem-solving for even the most curious and inquisitive mind. The job is not for the faint of heart, but if you have a strong stomach and enjoy puzzles, working as a forensic ballistics effort may be the perfect criminal justice career