By Bruce N. Eimer, Ph.D., ABPP and Alan Korwin, Author, Gun Laws of America
Abstract: Hoplophobia, the morbid fear of guns, is a real, extremely dangerous, widespread and clinically recognizable complex specific phobia with a number of unique characteristics, described. It has caused and continues to cause grievous harm in America. Dr. Sarah Thompson, M.D., author of two seminal papers on gun phobia, claims hoplophobia is little more than name calling and rare, points we dispute. Because one of the avoidance mechanisms of this phobia uniquely involves politics, its effects and importance are greater than for other phobias. Co-morbidities include suppressed rage, post-traumatic stress disorder, delusional disorder and panic disorder, with implications for society at large. Some behaviors heretofore written off because they seemed irrational may be explained.
A battle is currently raging over the causes and consequences of an extreme fear of guns, and whether or how often it constitutes the mental condition known as hoplophobia. The questions raised include: a) Is this a serious psychological condition? b) Is it a true phobia? c) To what degree does it affect individuals, especially people who claim to hate guns? and d) How prevalent is this condition in the general population?
Do those who work vigorously to ban guns or deny other people’s gun rights, labor under a fairly common mental disorder or disability? Are they afflicted by hoplophobia? Do they project their own fears, self-distrust, and pent-up anger onto others, as some professionals claim? Do they displace inner rage and mental anguish into the political arena — a potentially unique phobic criteria absent in existing medical literature? Does this dynamic color the politics of guns and threaten the continued existence of the Second Amendment?
One thing is clear — it would be beneficial to address these concerns with a great deal more scrutiny than they have received thus far, especially from psychiatric and psychological perspectives. There is no rational reason to continue to avoid or evade the subject.
Our research indicates that hoplophobia is a real, extremely dangerous, widespread, and clinically recognizable complex specific phobia that meets most but not all of the gauges the American Psychiatric Association and medical community has set out for phobias, for reasons we will examine. We will demonstrate that hoplophobia actually falls into its own category of anxiety and phobic disorders.
We will offer an explanation for why its prevalence has been ignored. The unique parameters of this complex specific phobia explain some of the formerly inexplicable features of the gun debate in the United States, as well as certain of the irrational behaviors of people on the anti-gun-rights side of the national debate.
Hoplophobia has caused and continues to cause grievous harm in America. Large swaths of the public and the medical community are in denial about the pernicious effects and pandemic nature of this malady. Some of what we deal with in the public arena as politics is instead a manifestation of this psychiatric condition. Additionally, it is our thesis that politics and media-driven ideation contribute to the genesis and proliferation of hoplophobia.
Dr. Sarah Thompson, M.D., a psychiatrist and former Executive Director of the Utah Gun Owners Alliance, is the author of two seminal papers that literally set the stage for examining the links between mental health and gun politics. She dislikes the term “hoplophobia,” and currently claims in correspondence with us it is little more than “name calling” and not a true psychiatric condition, or if it exists at all, is extremely limited in nature.
Col. Jeff Cooper, known widely and revered within the firearms community as “The father of the modern technique of shooting,” originally coined the term hoplophobia in 1966, a fascinating neologistic history we will explore in a future article.
Dr. Thompson’s first paper, Raging Against Self Defense, published in 2000, and her second, an illustrated booklet in 2001, Do Gun Prohibitionists Have a Mental Problem?, were both published by the late Aaron Zelman, founder of the organization Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, a Wisconsin-based civil-rights group. We can only speculate as to the underlying reasons for Dr. Thompson’s recent back-pedaling, since her papers do not square well with her current reluctance to acknowledge the existence, prevalence and consequences of hoplophobia (by any name), or with what we believe is obvious, but she holds fast to her position.
Dr. Thompson is not alone in her apparent reluctance, as the medical and mental-health professional communities are by-and-large vigorously anti-gun, a fact that is not under dispute. Many doctors are guilty of “boundary violations” when they, with some frequency, inject anti-gun political opinions or content into their clinical work as health-care providers. It is our assertion that this constitutes several serious ethical violations including at least: mixing politics and health care, violating the requirement to be value neutral in the practice of medicine and psychiatry or psychology, and practicing outside one’s recognized fields of expertise.Driven by a questionably zealous desire to ban firearms, many doctors are known to use their medical credentials in an attempt to validate the legitimacy of the agenda typically referred to as “gun control.” The other side of the political spectrum refers to the same agenda as “rights denial,” reflecting its inherently political and not medical nature.
The degree to which this occurs approaches the bizarre, with some in the medical community and even the federal Centers for Disease Control at different times attempting to portray gun ownership and violence as diseases that can be cured, and guns themselves as pathogens or germs. Patently absurd, this borders on irrational, a word we do not use lightly in the context of our study.
Physicians nationwide, often encouraged by their professional associations (pediatricians are widely recognized as especially at fault here), have counseled patients regarding firearms ownership, possession and use, areas where most physical health and mental-health care providers hold no certifications and are completely unqualified to give any advice at all.