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 reason.
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 traditio