In 1962, retired Marine Colonel Jeff Cooper coined the term, Hoplophobia, to describe the irrational fear of objects, gadgetry, specifically guns. The term was constructed from the Greek ὅπλον – hoplon, meaning “arms,” among other things, and φόβος – phobos, meaning “fear.” While is was coined as a pejorative to describe an “irrational aversion to weapons.” It is also used to describe the “fear of firearms” or the “fear of armed citizens.” It is not a “recognized medical phobia,” but perhaps it should be.
In my daily dealings with anti-gun gun people, whether they be trolls or sincerely concerned individuals, the term “Weapons Effect” has been coming up a lot lately. The “weapons effect” is a phenomenon described in social psychology. It refers to the mere sight of a weapon leading to more aggressive behavior in humans. Ironically, this phenomenon was first described by Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage in 1967 in their paper “Weapons as Aggressions-Eliciting Stimuli” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Just 5 years after Col. Cooper coined the term Hoplophobia, coincidence?
Many attempts have been made to replicate, extend and quantify the so-called “weapons effect” with varying degrees of success. This phenomenon is by no means universal, meaning that not everyone is provoked by the mere sight of a weapon into increased aggression. Furthermore, those with a familiarity with firearms are less susceptible to this phenomenon. More often, the persons baseline emotional and cognitive reactions factored more heavily into their response. Naturally aggressive people reacted more aggressively.
Despite being substantially questioned and soundly criticized, the theory of the “weapons effect” persists, possibly due to Hoplophobia. People tend to hold on to things that they can use to justify or rationalize their irrational fears. It is not a coincidence that those who are most vocal in the anti-gun movements are also those who are the least familiar with guns. It can be quite entertaining, in a sad and pathetic sort of way, to listen to politicians and anti-gun activists describe firearms and their capabilities. To someone with even a minimal knowledge of firearms, these displays are nearly comical in their blatant inaccuracies and sheer hysteria.
You would think that, at some point, common sense would come into play in the gun debates. For example, we have had horrendous terrorists attacks that did not involve guns at all. On Bastille Day in Nice, France hundreds were injured and over 80 people killed by a man in a truck. He had guns and he had explosives, but the truck was the weapon that injured and killed hundreds. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 more in Oklahoma City with a truckload of fertilizer and diesel. Over 30,000 people a year die in car accidents. There are people who fear driving or fear motor vehicles, vehophobia and motorphobia are “recognized medical phobias,” but society as a whole does not react to cars and trucks in the same irrational way that they react to guns.
Hoplophobia may not be a medically recognized condition and an argument could be made for whether it should or shouldn’t be recognized. However, unlike most irrational fears, phobias, Hoplophobia, and the “weapons effect,”can be overcome in most cases by education and familiarity with the object of the fear, firearms. People tend to fear the unknown, so a fear of firearms among those with no practical knowledge of them is to be expected. Rather than feed that irrational fear with uninformed and inflammatory rhetoric, perhaps we should focus more on education. First and foremost by educating our politicians who insist on proposing useless and often deadly legislation that puts more people in harms way and feeds on and into the irrational fears of the population.