Info on Becoming a Firearms Inspector

Learn how to become a firearms inspector. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in federal investigations.

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Do I Want to Be a Firearms Inspector?

Firearms inspectors are also known as industry operations investigators (IOI). These professionals work for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Firearms inspectors review the applications of people interested in distributing guns and explosive devices. Inspectors also interview applicants, conduct background searches, look over inventory documents, and identify any potential violations.

Firearms inspectors or industry operations investigators work full-time for the ATF, a government entity that provides job security, a good income, and competitive benefits. They spend most of their time working in an office setting.

Job Requirements

General qualifications for this position include a bachelor's degree, U.S. citizenship, and some federal government work experience. The following table includes the main career qualifications, as listed by the ATF:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field No degree field preference listed
Experience 3 years (2 years work experience in communications, organizational management, and data analysis; 1 year federal work experience, GS-4)
Key Skills Strong interviewing skills, good listener, detail oriented, self-motivated, problem solver, and knowledge of federal laws and ATF policies
Computer Skills Familiar with electronic records systems, federal legal document creation programs, and presentation creation software
Additional Requirements Pass drug screening and background checks, pass basic writing and mathematics exam, physically fit enough for employment, U.S. citizenship, registered for selective service (males only), valid driver's license, and willingness to travel as needed

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the ATF informational packet, minimum education requirements for becoming a firearms inspector include a bachelor's degree. The ATF doesn't specify any preference in regards to degree major. For this position, the ATF requires professionals who are capable of reviewing large amounts of data, identifying discrepancies, writing detailed reports, and communicating with others.

Success Tip:

  • Major in criminal justice. According to several college websites, federal government agencies, such as the ATF, often hire applicants with backgrounds in criminal justice. These degree programs teach students about law enforcement, the justice system, homeland security, and global politics.

Step 2: Meet Basic Government Hiring Requirements

The ATF requires applicants to pass several exams prior to employment. Applicants must pass thorough background exams, since firearms inspectors may require high-level security clearance to complete their job duties. Applicants will also have to pass medical exams and controlled substance tests. Skills tests include writing, mathematics, and an oral interview conducted by a panel of individuals. Other requirements include signing up for selected military service (for men born after 1959), U.S. citizenship, and a valid state driver's license.

Step 3: Get Work Experience

For entry-level firearms inspector positions, referred to as level G5, applicants require a total of three years' experience. One of those three years must be federal work experience at level G5 or below. The other two years of work experience don't necessarily need to be government related. Records from the ATF information packet indicate that they look for applicants who have had professional experience organizing and analyzing data sets, solving problems, planning projects, working reports, and collaborating with other professionals.

Success Tip:

  • Complete a federal government internship. While still in bachelor's degree programs, students may want to consider building work experience through federal internship appointments. Interested applicants will have to meet most basic government hiring requirements to work as interns. Some internships may lead to employment.
  • Apply to several government internship programs. The application process for government internships is extensive and may include completing résumés, written essay samples, and interviews. Competition is also high for some internship programs. Students who apply to multiple programs may have better chances of getting accepted.

Step 4: Complete 2-Year Excepted Service Appointment

Upon being hired, the first two years of employment are referred to as an excepted service appointment. During this time, firearms inspectors go through industry operations investigator basic training (IOIBT). According to the ATF, the IOIBT program takes 8 1/2 weeks to complete and includes lectures and simulated scenarios. During IOIBT, individuals will improve their knowledge about ATF enforcement laws, firearms compliance procedures and inspection safety. They will also gain skills with identifying firearms and explosives, conducting interviews, and filing appropriate paperwork.

Step 5: Become a Firearms Inspector

After completing IOIBT and any other necessary training during the excepted service appointment, individuals are eligible to be fully stated as industry operations investigators (firearms inspectors). Some ATF agencies may require that employees move to new locations, and the ATF doesn't offer financial assistance for moving expenses.

Success Tip:

  • Pursue graduate studies. To advance to higher positions, the ATF requires that workers continue their education and earn graduate credits, which may result in master's degrees. Specific areas of study may include business administration, public policy, law, communications, criminal justice, social science, public administration, or political science.
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