Hoplophobia: Is Fear of Guns Irrational?

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).

ColJeffCooperI 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:

eddie-eagleThe 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.”


  1. The word ‘hoblophobia’ clearly borrows from the gay rights playbook. With it, any opposition is portrayed as coming from irrational fear or hatred. No principled opposition is possible, nor any opposition based on religious beliefs. For that reason, while I admire attempt, I hope that the use of the word does not catch on.


    • Cooper claims to have coined the term back in the early 1960s, which would have been before the modern gay rights movement (Stonewall, 1969), though you could be right about the way that it is used currently.

      It is certainly a term of derision, and to the extent that it closes down discussion I agree it should be avoided. I don’t personally use the term, though I do know many people who are irrationally afraid of guns.


  2. I second johnsmith223’s comment, in hoping the use of this word does not catch on. It makes it far too easy to brand and categorize anyone with opposing views.
    Isn’t it far better to work with your “opponents” and win them over with logic, information and respectful discussion, than slamming them down with a LABEL?

    Children are taught -rightfully- to avoid and to a large extent fear guns, and many emerge into adulthood and go through a period of “knowing it all” and engage in name calling freely. Some people seem to be frozen at that stage way past young adulthood.
    I’d rather try to help them join the ever growing ranks of responsible gun owners and enthusiasts as they overcome ignorance and lack of opportunity to learn, than alienate them further and invite reciprocal name calling.

    Having lived through young adulthood back in the 60’s, I believe Cooper had a different set of issues when he coined the term. We were freer to express ourselves and our ideas back then. And mostly the world benignly allowed us that freedom.

    Today’s world seems based in tortured political “correctness” and the grassfires of media rhetoric torch the Truth quickly — often because of misspoken or misquoted use of words by someone who – at the heart – may have started with a great idea.


  3. I think there is an overuse of the term in many cases.
    The phobia is real and demonstrated time and time again by the people who ‘freak’ out (often a self described term) over the mere presence of a firearm. This is different from the people who use a rational fear of criminal actions with firearms as a justification for controlling other people.

    In this it is no different from those who fear snakes and those who irrationally fear any snake, snake like object etc.

    What I find so interesting is the people who irrationally fear firearms have no trouble with other dangerous objects; they drive cars, they use knives, they work with or around electricity every day. So clearly they can distinguish between safe behaviors and unsafe ones. Those with hoblophobia do not want to distinguish between safe behavior and not, they don’t want to distinguish between criminal and non-criminal actions…..and that is what pushes it into irrationality.


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