Gun Laws & Legislation

HOPLOPHOBIA: Gun Fear The Most Dangerous of All Phobias

The debate over the precise nature of the condition is likely to continue for a long period of time. This is normal in the psychiatric and mental-health field. The more pressing concern, it seems to us, is the scope of the condition, the numbers of people who may be afflicted, and the extent to which they sublimate their fear by pressing politicians to act in denying the rights of their fellow citizens. That, it seems to us, is intolerable — the idea that a festering and untreated psychological condition may have more influence over the acts of Congress than does intelligent consideration of life-or-death issues.

In seeking to quell their own turmoil, those so afflicted project their own fears and rage onto others. This is a fairly normal method for handling overwhelming fear and anger, but in doing so, politically active hoplophobes infringe on the rights of healthy law-abiding citizens and the stability of our society. This makes hoplophobia not only unique among all phobias, it makes it perilous.

Voices have been raised anew for CDC funding into firearms issues — this sorely neglected subject could not be more worthy of such study. Will the scientists and doctors at work in those prestigious halls look in this direction, if Congress decides to lift its funding ban?

We see again in the Thompson/Zelman pamphlet, “…these people cause serious harm, or even death to others by denying them the tools for self-defense. Feeling superior while harming others — that is what makes reaction formation psychologically powerful and hard to counteract.” We see further that in many cases these gun-fearing people, “have an impaired ability to recognize reality… anti-gun people persist in believing that their neighbors and co-workers will become mass murderers if allowed to own firearms.”

Is it rational?

Because this little recognized phobia markedly affects politics and the body politic, as we contend and have set about to demonstrate — even throughout recorded history — it explains a lot of the irrational behavior of otherwise very bright and rational politically involved citizens.

Often, when an observer is tempted to say, “That’s irrational,” about modern gun politics, we’re finding that it indeed is irrational. Why, for example, would a rational person offer $50 grocery gift cards and expect criminals to turn in their guns in exchange? It’s simply irrational. Why do that as a response to a madman’s psychotic acts 2,000 miles away? How can rational actors expect to solve real problems with irrational solutions like that?

The answer is rational people cannot, and those acts cannot provide solutions, because like so many similar examples, they are an irrational manifestation of a complex specific phobic disorder. But such actions do feel good, and that’s the nub.This is pure psychological avoidance. What it accomplishes is to assuage the angst of the phobic sufferer, at the expense of providing workable solutions. The large-scale support such a program sometimes finds, including within the media, implies a mass-hysteria or mass-hypnosis effect deserving of its own study, especially in light of the considerable harm such a program causes.

Acting out on “hoplo-remedies” misleads substantial portions of the public and politicians, many of whom do truly want to do good but who don’t know better. Such misdirection only serves to delay the creation of real solutions, reinforcing and perpetuating the problem. It confuses an easily misled “news” media and highly suggestible portions of the public. Most critically, it diverts scarce resources to where they can do no good. This is the ultimate insult of allowing phobias to drive efforts and interfere with desperately needed pragmatic solutions to real-world problems.

Real-world experience

As a practicing, board-certified, licensed clinical psychologist and certified firearms instructor, Dr. Eimer, co-author of this paper, has, over the years, helped hundreds of individuals who presented to his offices with a variety of specific phobias including hoplophobia, the morbid fear of firearms. Given the prevalence of this complex specific phobia, variously termed “firearms phobia,” “gun phobia,” and “hoplophobia,” and given its variably disabling outcomes and co-morbidities (i.e., stemming from an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects, such as death and disease), there is a current need for systematic research into its causes and cures.

As a writer and researcher in this field for more than 20 years, Mr. Korwin, co-author of this paper, has observed numerous people with paralyzing gun fears, and has interviewed hundreds with stories of their own, or tales of other people’s overwhelming fear of guns, especially from firearms trainers. Their stories of how they dealt with this disabling fear, overcame it, or still suffer are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The desensitization experience so many Americans have witnessed, where the abject horror of a gun melts into enjoyment and eager curiosity, for a formerly terrified first timer at a shooting range, is a joy to behold. It makes you feel sorry for those who are so terrified they cannot risk the experience at all.

The literature on the subject, considering the widespread and damaging nature of the condition, is appallingly thin. We add to the literature with this series of papers, and a forthcoming book on the subject. We invite others to join us in this important and neglected field of research.

Dr. Eimer points out that, “I have witnessed hoplophobia wreck marriages, ruin careers, diminish qualify of life and lead to the onset of other anxiety disorders, especially panic disorder. Perhaps most distressingly, politicians and other public figures sometimes give the appearance of behaving in a hoplophobic manner, instead of dealing rationally with matters of serious national importance.” Without personally interviewing such people, diagnosis is impossible. This is not to say that early diagnosis and treatment would be unwise, especially for those with a history of trauma.

The co-authors are working on the second in this series of papers, leading up to a book on the subject.

Copyright 2013 Bruce N. Eimer and Alan Korwin


Dr. Bruce N. Eimer, Ph.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The author of nine books, he holds numerous firearms-training qualifications, including as a Pennsylvania State Police certified law-enforcement and NRA-certified firearms instructor. Dr. Eimer has conducted thousands of psychological evaluations of security officers and law-enforcement personnel to assess mental fitness to carry a firearm on the job. Dr. Eimer can be reached at [email protected].

Alan Korwin’s 10th book, the unabridged
 Supreme Court Gun Cases, one of 14 he has written, was named one of the best Second Amendment books of all time (co-written with David B. Kopel and Stephen P. Halbrook). He runs the website, and Bloomfield Press, the largest publisher and distributor of gun-law books in the nation. His news-media commentary as The Uninvited Ombudsman in the Page Nine newsletter reaches more than a quarter-million readers. Sign up at