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What are Columbine Locks?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 17, 2024

Columbine locks are special locks installed on the doors of classrooms, allowing the room to be locked from the inside. They are named after the horrendous shooting deaths at Columbine High School in 1999. The Columbine massacre, perpetuated by two students, resulted in the deaths of 12 students, a teacher, and the suicide of the two gunmen. Additionally, over 20 others were wounded, and few students survived the massacre without mental scars and trauma from that horrific attack.

The tragedy at Columbine raised many questions about the safety of students on any campus, and what possible steps could be taken to avoid another such disaster. One of the ideas proposed were special locks that could be a way to keep an attacker out of a classroom and provide safety for students. Most schoolroom doors are locked from the outside by a key. If a shooting were to occur in a school, a teacher or another school staff member would have to exit a classroom, potentially risking his/her life to do so in order to securely lock the door.

If an attacker is on a school campus and doors aren’t locked, then he or she has easy access to any room on the campus. By providing a locking mechanism inside the classroom, teachers or others don’t have to leave the room. They can also prevent an attacker from accessing the classroom, unless that person has a key. Columbine locks could also be placed on doors on gymnasiums, cafeterias, or other large rooms during a lock down situation, to keep a large number of students secure at the same time.

The principle objection to these locks is that many districts and individual schools cannot afford the expense of installing them. With limited budgets, schools may have to raise the money separately either through fundraising programs, bonds, or by creating special building funds. In 2007, for instance, the San Mateo Union High School District in Northern California decided to install locks on classroom doors. The cost was estimated as over $100,000 US Dollars (USD) to add them on about 450 classroom doors, which is slightly over $200 USD per door.

High schools and middle schools frequently have many classrooms, and others around the country might find that the cost of Columbine locks is just too high. There’s also some controversy about whether locks on such doors would be applied to offices of administrative staff, and if principals or deans, for instance, should be attempting to save children if they can, instead of hiding in an office. Evidence suggests that in high school and college shootings, many teachers and administrators willingly risk their own safety to protect their students. Some people question whether they still would hazard this risk if locks were applied to their office doors.

Others criticize the locks not so much for expense but because modern society has created a need for them. With an increase in shootings on high school and college campuses, many argue the solution is not locking doors, but making sure that students don’t have access to weapons. They suggest more restrictive gun control laws and a ban on automatic weapons in general. Others point to violence in society as being caused by violence in the media. There are no clear and immediate solutions, and in the absence of such, increasing safety measures at school, like adding interior door locking mechanisms, might help protect more students and staff during an attack on a school.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon311560 — On Jan 02, 2013

The whole idea behind the locks being keyed from the outside is they are supposed to be locked 100 percent of the time and these locks are required by code in most states. This forces teachers to carry their keys 100 percent of the time and check the door every time someone knocks. They are so expensive because of the construction and durability. If you bought something off the shelf at Lowe's, it wouldn't take the wear and tear.

By anon43187 — On Aug 26, 2009

My son attends Hillsdale High School, which is part of the San Mateo Union High School District discussed above and has these locks installed. On Monday, an attacker detonated two pipe bombs in the hallway in front of my son's classroom, and the teacher was able to lock the door before the assailant could attempt to enter the classroom. Other teachers did the same, and he was apprehended by faculty and law enforcement before he could injure anyone with the bombs or with the other weapons he had (a machete/sword and a chainsaw. don't believe me, look it up). I thank god the district acted in 2007 because I could have lost my son in his second week of high school. All schools should have these locks, plain and simple. Matthew Chidester, San Mateo, CA

By jfirmw — On Mar 21, 2009

Sounds like it works like a normal house lock... no key needed to lock it from the inside... so why so expensive if they are going in nationwide???

Also, I'm guessing one or two blasts of a shotgun makes short work of that expensive lock...

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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