If there is a person in the firearms self-defense community who is quoted more reverently than Col. Jeff Cooper, I do not know who s/he is. Gun trainers mentioning his ideas sound like Jesus’s disciples quoting the Messiah: “According to Col. Cooper. . .” and “To quote Col. Cooper. . .” And there is no stronger credential for a gun trainer than to have sat at the feet of the Master and learned from him.
Among the ideas attributed to Cooper is hoplophobia: the irrational fear of firearms (combining the Greek “hoplon” – arms – and “phobos” – fear).
I was thinking of hoplophobia recently because it was the topic of Episode 262 of Bob Mayne’s Handgun World Podcast. Obviously “hoplophobe” is a term of derision within the gun community, and so I began thinking about whether or not I used to be one. As I explained in my first post, I grew up without guns and was quite frankly afraid of them. I sought out the opportunity to shoot for the first time at least as much because of my fear of guns as my interest in them. I wanted to know how they worked, what to do if I found one laying around, how I could unload them, make them safe, and so on.
Did that make me a hoplophobe? Well, it really hinges on the question of what make a fear rational versus irrational, a line that is not easy to draw clearly for all sorts of cultural and psychological reasons (as I’ve discussed previously here and here).
On the one hand, guns are dangerous weapons and we are right to be afraid of what they are capable of doing. There are the 4 rules of gun safety – codified, of course, by Col. Jeff Cooper – precisely because guns are dangerous. Consider also the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, which teaches children if they see a gun to:
The same good advice can be given to a child if they come across a poisonous snake. Thus, the program rightly teaches children to fear guns — a rational fear. But that is not the end of the story, because the Eddie Eagle program only applies to children who are not ready and able to handle guns.
Now that I know how to handle guns safely, I am not generally fearful of them, though I am still afraid sometimes when I am around guns. When I am at a public gun range, often shooting around people I do not know, I am afraid. When some guy pulls out a bump-fire equipped AR-15 and starts wildly throwing rounds down range (and down into the ground), I am afraid. When I am shooting sporting clays and the group ahead muzzles me when they are leaving the stand, I am afraid. I think these are all rational fears.
But, in all of the cases I mention above – and unlike the snake example I gave — the gun in itself does not actually or potentially do anything of its own accord. So, in the end, I am not afraid of guns. I am afraid of some of the people using them. Which brings this brief discussion full circle. To quote Col. Cooper, hoplophobia is “irrational aversion to firearms, as opposed to justified apprehension about those who may wield them.”