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Author Topic: Examiner education questions  (Read 27256 times)

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Examiner education questions
« on: March 10, 2005, 10:51:44 AM »
I want to change careers and become a firearms examiner. I have a few thousand questions, but will limit myself to the important ones.

1) What kind of education do you recommend?
         a) I have a bachelor's degree, but it is not related to forensics or science, what kind of education do I need?
         b) Would a certificate in forensic investigation be of any worth?
         c) Would a gunsmithing certificate be of any worth?
         d) What additional courses (A&P, chem, geometry, engineering) would you suggest?

2) How does a forensic's specific program weigh vs. a criminal justice program?

3) I find very few firearms-specific programs, and none in my area. What course work will help prepare me for a FA examiner position? What additional education will make me a more attractive candidate?

4) I have been a lifelong shooter and gun enthusiast. I am also an ammunition reloader. Are these seen as positives, or does the "gun nut" stereotype work against me?

5) Finally, I have spent the past decade as an editor, the past two as a technical editor, so I am meticulous and document everything. I am a lifelong shooter and gun enthusiast, so I have a natural interest in firearms and am a stickler for firearm safety. I am a reloader, so I am familiar with the components and understand the need for precision. I am mechanically inclined and worked through college as a mechanic. I was a champion debater, so logic and reasoning (as well as structured public speaking and legal procedure) are strengths for me. The coursework in one local forensic invstigation program looks like something I would read for fun. Basically, is this the career for me?

I appreciate any and all advice or guidance you can offer me. I am not a "CSI" fanatic who thinks life is like a TV show. Investigative work has always fascinated me (Thank you, Hardy Boys), and a career working with firearms and associated components interests me. I understand the work and hours are difficult. I am serious about this and am asking for words of wisdom from those who have been there and done that.

Thanks for reading this obscenely long post.



  • Guest
Examiner education questions
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2005, 11:05:19 AM »
I should mention that I can be reached at

Thanks again.

Offline L. M. Kogler

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  • Posts: 195
Examiner education questions
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2005, 11:17:56 AM »
If you haven't already done so, check some of the posts in the "Forensics" area of this discussion board; those may help answer some of your questions.  I'm not sure if someone has already responded to your e-mail privately, but even so, this may be informative for other potential firearms examiners:

1) Need a minimum of a Bachelor's degree with science courses for many labs; a degree with a major in one of the "hard" sciences, is preferred, especially chemistry.  A forensic investigation certificate is probably more valuable if you are a police officer, detective, or crime scene specialist.   If it comes down to where to put your money for your education -- take chemistry (as much as you can) and physics; engineering, materials science, and forensic science would be helpful courses, too.  A gunsmithing certificate couldn't hurt, but an applicant with a strong science background is probably going to be preferred over a minimal science background and certificate.

2) From what I've read, most "forensic" specific programs involve education on evidence collection, handling, and analysis and will involve more science than a criminal justice program.  If you're serious about working in a lab, don't bother with criminal justice programs.  And check the quality of the forensic program --- some do not have enough science in them to make a person a viable candidate for a lab job.  When in doubt, go for the science courses.

3) There aren't any firearms specific programs, at least not at this time.  There's another topic in the "Forensics" section of the board on this issue; see those posts on what kind of firearms coursework is available at some of the different schools.

4) I know quite a few examiners who are "gun nuts" so I don't think it will work against you, and it may help.  Look at it this way -- you have knowledge and previous experience with firearms, so you will be much easier to train than someone without that background.  For resumes and applications, I'd suggest listing courses you've taken or have trained others in (firearms safety, a gunsmithing course, etc) or volunteer or other work that emphasizes your knowledge and practical experience with firearms.

5) If the coursework looks like something you'd read for fun, you're definitely off to a good start!  Experience with meticulously documenting everything is also very good.  And of course, mechanical aptitude and an interest in firearms are excellent to have.  However, here are some things to keep in mind:

A) You may not get a entry level position in a lab as a firearms examiner -- in a number of labs, many examiners have had to work analyzing drugs or doing other work before transferring into firearms.  This may be changing, with the increasing numbers of NIBIN Technician positions being created, but again, it is a tech position, and you may not be trained as an examiner until some later time.  Basically, you may not get to start off as a firearms examiner.

B) You have to be willing to do a lot of work not necessarily because it makes sense, but because it's required -- for legal purposes, for quality assurance purposes, for whatever reason.  I am realizing that long-term success in forensic science means being able to tolerate large amounts of bureaucracy and administrative "red tape."  All jobs have this, and of course, it's very frustrating.  But while in a lot of jobs less scrupulous people may take shortcuts or ignore procedures, you can't get away with it in this field and maintain any credibility or a job for very long.  (There have been exceptions to this, and they give forensic scientists a bad name.)  The main reason I mention this is that I've seen some people under enormous amounts of stress because of this, so it's something to consider -- would you love the work but get an ulcer doing it?

C) Are you prepared to spend some long hours in front of a microscope?  Check out Scott Doyle's Virtual Comparison Microscope at

D) Court testimony -- if you can't clearly state what you did in court, then your work has been for nothing.  As a champion debater, public speaking should not be an issue, although you may have to resist any urges to argue with the attorneys!  :D

E) This is a no-brainer, but for all who are interested in a forensic career, I need to mention it: Expect to be able to pass a background check, and possibly a polygraph or even a psych test.  There is just no getting around this one.

So that's my two cents to your questions.  Other examiners may have a different take on some of these issues, and if so, I hope they will post.
L. M. Kogler


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