What is Hoplophobia?

Hoplophobia is an irrational or excessive fear of firearms. It was originally coined by retired American Marine Col. Jeff Cooper as a pejorative term to describe anti-gun enthusiasts and those with an aversion to firearms. While Cooper’s intention when he coined the term was not to understand people with hoplophobia, the phobia itself is very real, and is closely related to ballistophobia (fear of missiles or bullets) and harpaxophobia (fear of being robbed).

Hoplophobia is considered a specific or isolated phobia that may be caused by a combination of unresolved trauma, environmental factors, and a genetic predisposition. Hoplophobia may include some comorbidities, such as depression, rage, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and agoraphobia. Soldiers who are highly trained with firearms may experience hoplophobia as a result of their experiences with guns.

Hoplophobia should be further defined as the fear of people armed with firearms, since the idea of appropriate authority figures, such as a police officer, is not necessarily a menacing or triggering threat; however, that depends on the individual’s own phobia.

The fear of firearms is extremely prevalent in the United States, where the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment gives every citizen the right to bear arms. While massive shootings in schools and public places occurs every year in the US, killing hundreds of innocent people, the ability to purchase heavy duty firearms continues to be a simple process. There are some neighbourhoods in the US where guns are seen, heard, and used every day. The threat of firearms, therefore, may be very prevalent in some people’s lives. While hoplophobia may be more present in the United States, the morbid fear of firearms can affect anyone, anywhere at any age.

The news and other media sources may be the main cause of hoplophobia. Constant reports of mass murder and even accidental homicides may build up a false perception that guns are more of a risk than they really are. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has fought hard against backlash of lax gun laws that have ultimately led to the United States as having one of the top three highest gun homicide rates in the world. NRA members have made attempts to discredit and even debunk the existence of hoplophobia; however, it is a proven anxiety disorder with mental, emotional, and physical symptoms.

Firearms are inherently dangerous. It’s normal for people to experience some fear or nervousness if they see a gun, especially if it’s being handled by someone other than a police officer. However, a hoplophobe will also have an irrational fear of toy guns, or firearms that are very clearly fake, broken, or otherwise no real threat to anyone’s safety. If you know someone with hoplophobia, do not try to help them “face their fear” by exposing them to a firearm. Despite your good intentions, you may be causing further damage and trauma. The hoplophobe may also experience shame, guilt, fear, embarrassment, humiliation, and anger. While the phobic may acknowledge that their fear is “irrational,” this realization will not be enough of a reason to overcome their phobia. Only a professional and experienced mental health professional should help a hoplophobe overcome their phobia.

The word hoplophobia comes from the Greek “hoplon,” which means “weapon or arms.”

Symptoms of Hoplophobia

  • extreme anxiety, dread
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • heart palpitation
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • confusion / inability to articulate clearly
  • lack of focus
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • obsession with the subject of the phobia
  • fear or feelings of losing control
  • avoidance behavior
  • headaches

The phobic may experience some or all of these symptoms, and they may change over time. The severity of these symptoms depend on intensity of the person’s phobia.

Learn more about phobia symptoms

Causes of Hoplophobia

Hoplophobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.
Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (e.g. “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.

A hoplophobe may have unresolved traumas from childhood or early adolescence in which firearms played a major distressing role, such as the death or maiming of a loved one, experiencing a school shooting, witnessing someone’s death, or being the victim of gun violence themselves.

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odour or touch) are less well understood, are driven by social anxiety and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and/or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation or seeing something on the news or on TV and movies.

Hoplophobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Learn more about the causes of phobias

Treatment for Hoplophobia

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Habit strategies to relax
  • Cognitive therapy (CT)
  • In vivo exposure
  • Response prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

As with all specific or isolated phobias, exposure therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy can significantly help a phobic to overcome their fear. Left untreated, hoplophobia may interfere with the phobic’s life. A mental health professional with experience in phobias will discuss various treatment options in order to find the right therapy program. Medication may be prescribed to treat hoplophobia; however, it should only be considered a last resort, as it won’t cure the phobia, merely the symptoms.

Learn more about phobia treatments

Book Shelf

The list of books below are hand picked by the staff at Massive Phobia. It’s a mixture of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Strategies, Trauma Healing, Mindfulness, Meditation, Buddhist Knowledge and Somatic Study. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.