Would College Student Background Checks Help to Quell Gun Violence and Crime on Campus?

By Michael Klazema on 9/9/2015
The recent spat of tragic gun violence across the nation has spurred conversation about implementing background checks for gun purchases. However, a Thursday, September 3rd shooting at Sacramento City College in California is inspiring discussion about a different type of background checks: criminal screenings for incoming college students.

According to KCRA Channel 3, an NBC News affiliate based in the Sacramento area, a big point of contention about the Sac City case is that both of the victims in the shooting had criminal records. The shooter, meanwhile, remains an unknown fugitive, though police claim to have a number of "good leads" in the case.

The question being posed by KCRA, and, from the sounds of their report, a number of Sac City College students, is this: why isn't the college running background checks on students to ensure the public safety of the campus? Both of the victims in the September 3rd shooting, one dead, the other injured, had felony convictions on their records. The shooting occurred when the two victims, both of whom were current students at Sac City, began fighting with two other men. One of the shooting victims escalated the conflict by stabbing one of the other men with a knife. The stabbing victim is recovering in a local hospital.

A still as-yet-unidentified fourth man then began firing shots, killing one of the victims and grazing the other. The man who survived the shooting was the one who had pulled the knife, and has subsequently been expelled from Sac City College and charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

Local police have increased their presence on the Sacramento City College campus since the incident, with the goal of keeping students safe. However, school officials still refuse to consider background checks as a measure to providing the level of safety that students really want. When asked about the possibility of implementing background checks for students, a spokesperson for Sac City said that "community colleges have often been the place for second chances," and therefore do not conduct criminal or sex offender background checks on incoming students.

Sacramento City College does have a policy that requires students convicted of sexual assault or rape to self-report the convictions to campus police. The spokesperson for the school said he thought there were maybe 20 students on campus with those charges, "out of our 23,000." He said he had "no idea" how many students on campus might have criminal convictions.

While the Sac City spokesperson made it sound like student background checks were skipped on community college campuses, but observed elsewhere, that's not necessarily the case. California's public state universities don't run background checks on incoming students, nor do most colleges or universities in any other state.

It's understandable why colleges often don't want to run background checks on their applicants. Doing so would be a very expensive process and would require students to wait longer to hear back about admissions decisions. As revealed by the spokesperson at Sac City College, another concern is that college (especially community college) is often seen as a "second chance" for young people who made mistakes during high school. Schools rejecting students based not on academics, but on criminal history, would stir major protest among groups who already think that pre-employment background checks have created a society that discriminates against ex-convicts.

With all that said, students deserve to have a safe experience on college campuses, and the fact is that many college campuses aren't safe. Gun violence and rape are just two common issues that plague college campuses and make many students, especially females, afraid to walk home after dark. Background checks for all students might go a long way in creating a safer and more respectful campus environment.

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