THE ROOT OF THE EVIL
by Jeff Cooper
My dictionary describes an obsession as "a haunting by a fixed
idea." A haunting is a nagging, continuous fear of the unreal. A fixed
idea is one that cannot be altered, by truth or reason or anything else.
Phobia is listed as "fear, horror, or aversion -- of a morbid
character. "Morbid" is "unwholesome, sickly. "
Those of us who shoot cannot help being perplexed when we encounter
people who are apparently haunted by a fixed and morbid aversion to our
guns. When first we meet such persons we generally respond with
explanations, as is only reasonable. But with time we discover that
often we are not dealing with rational minds. This is not to say that
everyone who is opposed to shooting is mentally aberrant, but it is to
say that those who latch on to an unreasonable notion and thereafter
refuse to listen to any further discussion of it have problems that are
more amenable to psychiatry than to argument.
I coined the term hoplophobia over twenty years ago, not out of
pretension but in the sincere belief that we should recognize a very
peculiar sociological attitude for what it is -- a more or less
hysterical neurosis rather than a legitimate political position. It
follows convention in the use of Greek roots in describing specific
mental afflictions. "Hoplon" is the Greek word for "instrument," but
refers synonymously to "weapon" since the earliest and principal
instruments were weapons. Phobos is Greek for "terror" and medically
denotes unreasoning panic rather than normal fear. Thus hoplophobia is
a mental disturbance characterized by irrational aversion to weapons, as
opposed to justified apprehension about those who may wield them. The
word has not become common, though twenty years is perhaps too short a
time in which to test it, but I am nevertheless convinced that it has
merit. We read of "gun grabbers" and "anti-gun nuts" but these slang
terms do not face up to the reasons why such people behave the way they
do. They do not adequately suggest that reason, logic, and truth can
have no effect upon one who if irrational on the point under discussion.
You cannot say calmly "Come, let us reason together" to a hoplophobe
because that is what he is -- a hoplophobe. He is not just one who holds
an opposing view, he is an obsessive neurotic. You can speak, write, and
illustrate the merits of the case until you drop dead, and no matter how
good you are his mind will not be changed. A victim of hydrophobia will
die, horribly, rather than accept the water his body desperately needs.
A victim of hoplophobia will die, probably, before he will accept the
fallacy of his emotional fixation for what it is.
Have you noted that whenever an assassination is committed with a
rifle, our journalistic hoplophobes clamor for further prohibitions on
pistols? A pistol is a defensive weapon; a rifle is an offensive weapon.
Yet the hoplophobes always attack pistols first because they feel that
pistols are somehow nastier than rifles. (Though rifles are pretty
nasty, too. They will get to those later.) This is the age of the "gut
reaction" -that crutch of intellectual cripples -- and for an interesting
number of commentators it is not even embarrassing to admit that
actually thinking about anything important is just too much trouble.
Some of our most ubiquitous and highly paid social-problem columnists
are egregious examples of this.
Not long ago a staff member of the Chicago Tribune held forth at
some length about how the color gatefolds in outdoor magazines
exemplified the same sniggering depravity that we find in the
pornographic press, substituting guns for girls. What a sewer of a mind
this man displays! It is undeniable that both a man-made work of art and
a beautiful woman are manifestations of God's blessing, but to imply
that our admiration for them is obscene is to give oneself away. For
some it indeed may be, but the rest of us need no advice from such. (I
had thought that the fad to fantasize everything into a Freudian
sex-symbol had gone out of vogue prior to World War II, but obviously
there are a good many who never got the word.)
The essence of the affliction is the belief that instruments cause
acts. It may be that certain degenerate human beings are so far gone
that they will use something just because it is there -- a match, for
instance. (I saw a bumper sticker in the Rockies that admonished
"Prevent Forest Fires. Register Matches!") One who will burn people
because he has a match is the same as one who will shoot people because
he has a gun, but the hoplophobe zeroes in on guns because he is -- let's
face it -- irrational. He will answer this by saying that we need matches
(and cars, and motorcycles, and power saws, et cetera) but we do not
need guns. He will not accept the idea that you may indeed need your
guns, because he hates guns. He is afflicted by the grotesque notion
that tools have a will of their own. He may admit that safe driving is
a matter of individual responsibility, but he rejects the parallel in
the matter of weapons. This may not be insanity, but it is clearly
related to it.
One cannot rationally hate or fear an inanimate object. Neither can
he rationally hate or fear an object because of its designed purpose.
Whether one approves of capital punishment or not, one cannot rationally
fear a hemp rope. One who did, possibly because he once narrowly
escaped hanging, would generally be referred to a shrink. When the most
prominent hoplophobe in the United States Senate says that he abhors
firearms because their purpose is to put bullets through things, he
reinforces the impressions that many have formed about his capacity to
My point -- and I hope it is clear -- is that hoplophobia is a mental
disturbance rather than a point of view. Differences of opinion -- on
economic policy, or forced integration, or the morality of abortion, or
the neutron bomb -- these we may hope to resolve by discussion. But we
cannot so resolve a phobia. The mentally ill we cannot reach. But we
can identify a form of mental illness for what it is, and so separate
its victims from the policy considerations of reasonable people.
The root of the evil is the unprincipled attempt to gain votes by
appealing to the emotions of the emotionally disturbed. Few reasonable
politicians dare to take on the Second Amendment, even in the Eastern
Megalopolis. (One prominent left-liberal told a New Yorker interviewer
that he "would rather be a deer, in season, than to take on 'the gun
lobby'!") But if, as is the case with the aforementioned senator, the
politician is already a hopeless hoplophobe, his advisers must turn him
loose to appeal to his constituency of crazies, since their jobs depend
on it. "Go to it, Senator! The nuts are all with you."
This is something we who prize our traditional liberties must face.
Convincing the uninterested is the very essence of politics, in a
two-party system. It is up to us to do that by demonstrating that
hoplophobia is a disease, and to call upon all reasonable people to
reject it as a basis for the formulation of policy.
To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth.
Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press, 1990.
Gainfully employed since 1974