Does a Lack of Paddling
Cause School Shootings?

By Christopher Dugan


        As news of yet another school shooting fills the airwaves, certain individuals seize the opportunity to exploit the tragedy to promote a sociopolitical agenda, by blaming the shooting on a lack of spanking in schools:

        "People search in vain for some event or factor in the backround of these child murderers.  They seek in vain, for it is what is NOT present that matters.  It is the absence of physical punishment, the only thing savages understand..."1

        "[T]he government is to blame because they took the paddle away from the schoolteacher."2

        "[I]f the paddle was still in schools you wouldn't have problems... maybe, if there was disiplin (sic), [the Columbine High School shooting] never would have happened."3

        Kids in the Good Old Days didn't bring guns to school and shoot their fellow students, we are told.  (Actually, such school shooting incidents have happened in the past, such as when 13 year old Carl Ambrose, shot Theodore Lux, an older child who had been bullying him.  This incident took place at Waukegan High School in Waukegan Illinois... in 1920.4)  But even if school shootings in the USA truly were a recent development, the argument that lack of paddling is responsible does not withstand critical scrutiny.  If lack of paddling caused school shootings, we should expect to see all or most school shooting incidents occurring in schools which have banned paddling, and few or no such incidents in school districts which still permit corporal punishment.

        School paddling is banned in the majority of US states, with the most populous states overrepresented on the non-paddling list.  School shooting incidents have occurred in the non-paddling states of Alaska, Michigan, Oregon, and most recently, California.  But a disproportionate number have occurred in small towns in low population states with high rates of school paddling.  The minority of mostly-rural, mostly-Southern states which still permit school paddling have an even smaller minority of the overall US population.  Yet the majority of school shootings have happened in these states.  Clearly, if a lack of school paddling caused school shootings, this is not at all what we should expect to see - quite the opposite.

        Not all paddling states are in the Deep South.  Paddling is still permitted in Pennsylvania schools.  But this did not prevent a 14-year-old-boy from fatally shooting a teacher and  wounding two students at an eight-grade dance in the town of Edinboro, April 24, 1998.

        Arkansas has the second highest school paddling rate in the country - high even by U.S. Southern standards.  Yet this did not prevent two boys from going on a shooting rampage at their Middle School in Jonesboro on March 24, 1998.  Not only was paddling practiced at this school, but the older of the two boys, 13 year old Mitchell Johnson, was reportedly paddled at school the day before the tragedy.  He shot and killed the teacher who had paddled him, but targeted no other faculty members.

        A Reuters wire story on the day of the shooting stated,  "It was not immediately clear what the boys' motives were, although local reports said they may have been recently disciplined by school teachers" (Reuters, 1998).  The Boston Globe reported, "On Monday, classmates and their parents said, Johnson brought a pocket knife to school, and rumors spread through the hallways that he had been paddled for the violation, a practice allowed in Arkansas schools"  (O'Brien, 1998).  One of my own informants told me, "I spoke with the reporter in Jonesboro and he told me he definitely would not write about the paddling in the local newspaper, The Jonesboro Sun.  When I asked him why, he said he's sick of people blaming Southern culture for the shooting."

Mitchell Johnson

        The teacher said to have paddled Mitchell Johnson for bringing a knife to school was the only teacher shot and killed by Johnson the following day. This paddling may or may not have had any influence on Mitchell Johnson's murderous behavior.  We will probably never know.  But it clearly did not prevent the tragedy from happening.  If paddling in the schools is the solution to school shootings, why did it fail to prevent this one?

        The Jonesboro shootings were not the first such incident in Arkansas.  Just three months earlier 14 year old Colt Todd opened fire on students in the parking lot of his school in the town of Stamps, wounding two.

        The Jonesboro tragedy was also not the first instance of a paddled student later shooting the same school official who paddled him.  13 year old Robin Robinson was paddled by the principal at his school in Lanett, Alabama, Oct. 15, 1978.   He then returned to school with a gun, shooting and wounding the principal after the principal told him he would be paddled a second time (Dedman, 2000).

        Another high-paddling state is neighboring Georgia, number six on the paddling list nationwide.  Keyvin Lyle Jones, 13, stabbed to death the principal of his school in Barrow County, just a few weeks after the Jonesboro tragedy.  The weapon Keyvin's hand was a fingernail file.  The weapon in principal Murray O. Kennedy's hand was a paddle.  The Kennedy had thrown the child to the floor shortly before the boy stabbed him with the nail file. According to an Associated Press wire story dated April 17, 1998, the boy's mother, who witnessed the stabbing said she thought her son was reacting out of fear.  "I believe he was afraid of Mr. Kennedy," she said, "He just lost control, I think, but it happened so quick."  Not only did this school's profligate paddling policy not prevent the murder of a school official by a student, it may well have precipitated the deadly event.

        The paddle-wielding State of Georgia was the scene of two more a school tragedies the following year.  A 17 year old boy shot and killed a classmate and then took his own life at Central High School in the town of Carrollton on January 8, 1999.  Then, on May 20, 1999, 15 year old T.J. Solomon left six students injured at Heritage High School in the town of Conyers.

        In neighboring Alabama, not only did a school paddling fail to prevent 13 year old Robin Robinson from bringing a gun to school and shooting the principal, it may well have been the precipitating event.  In the small town of Lanett, on Oct. 15, 1978, Robin was paddled by the principal. He returned to school with a gun; when told he would be paddled again, he shot and wounded the principal.

        In Virginia, yet another pro-paddling Southern state, a 14 year old boy wounded a teacher and a guidance counselor in a school hallway on June 15, 1998.  A more recent school shooting took place in yet another high-paddling Southern state, when a 13 year old boy gunned down his teacher at school on May 26, 2000 in Lake Worth, Florida.

        In 1999, the Oklahoma legislature passed a resolution encouraging corporal punishment of children with implements. Oklahoma schools are near the top of  the list for both paddlings and drop out rates, and near the bottom of the list for SAT scores.  But the heavy prospank culture of Oklahoma homes and schools did not prevent a 13 year old Middle School student in the town of Fort Gibson from wounding four of his schoolmates later that same year on Dec. 6  with a 9mm semiautomatic.

        Kentucky is also a pro-paddling state, in which spanking in the home and in schools is a thoroughly embedded component of the traditional local culture.  Yet this did not prevent West Paducah, Kentucky 14 year old Michael Carneal from killing three and wounding five others during a prayer meeting at his school on December 1, 1997.  Unfortunately, this was not the first such school tragedy in Kentucky.  In the town of Grayson, Jan. 18, 1993, 17 year old Scott Pennington shot a schoolmate in the head and a school employee in the abdomen at East Carter High School.

        Tennessee, another pro-paddling state, witnessed a fatal shooting of a student in the parking lot of the Lincoln County High School in Fayetteville by fellow student, Jacob Davis, on May 19, 1998.

        The only state with a higher paddling rate than Arkansas is Mississippi, where a 16 year old student killed two and wounded 7 at school in the little town of Pearl on October 1, 1997.

        If lack of school corporal punishment caused school shootings, we ought to  have seen such incidents in a number of countries which have long forbidden the practice.   School corporal punishment has been banned nationwide for over a century in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Finland and France, and for over a century and a half in both the Netherlands and Luxembourg.  Poland banned corporal punishment in its schools back in 1783.  Yet it is in the USA, not in these countries, where the school shootings have taken place.

        School shootings are terrible tragedies and it is imperative that a solution be found.  Shamefully, certain advocates of spanking continue to muddle the discourse on this important topic by pretending that these incidents have occurred in schools which don't use corporal punishment, when the actual trend is just the reverse.  Paddling, or the lack of it, is unlikely to be either a cause nor a cure for this complex and difficult problem.  I don't claim to have the solution to this problem.  But the people who promote still higher rates of paddling as a cure-all don't have a solution either.


Dedman, W.  2000.  "Bullying, tormenting often led to revenge in cases studied."  The  Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 15.

O'Brien, E.  1998.  "Arkansas Boys Showed A Taste For Violence."  The Boston Globe, March 26.

Reuters News Service   1998.   "Four Young Girls Killed in Schoolyard Shooting."  March 24th.

Additional information came from:  and,   (for info on 1920 school shooting incident) , and   (for the three pro-paddling quotes) (for Lanett, Alabama shooting)



updated April 16, 2006