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Gun-rights group touts new 'word'

A Utah gun-rights group has an eye out for hoplophobes.

Never heard of hoplophobia? Most people haven't. The made-up word to describe people who fear guns hasn't caught on. Not even longtime gun enthusiasts are familiar with the term.

"We lead the state in sales, but we've never heard that," said Norman Van Wagenen, whose family has been in the firearms business in Provo since 1958.

The Utah Shooting Sports Council is trying to get hoplophobia into the local vernacular as well as the often bitter gun rights debate.

"There is such a thing as hoplophobia," said David Nelson, founder of Stonewall Shooting Sports of Utah. "It is driving many of the people engaged in the (gun rights) debate."

Author and gun enthusiast Jeff Cooper coined hoplophobia about 20 years ago, combining the Greek words "hoplon" for weapon and "phobos" for terror. Basically, it means having an irrational fear of guns.

The shooting sports council says hoplophobes should stay out of the Second Amendment debate.

"Hoplophobes are common and should never be involved in setting gun policies, though many are hard at work in the rights-denial movement, and are arguably the greatest threat in the debate," the council says in a recent action alert.

Marla Kennedy, executive director of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, called use of the word a "desperate attempt" to stray from the real issue by "making everyone think that it's because we're fearful of (guns) when the truth is we just want to protect people."

"If the gun-rights activists in the state want to interject this word, it's just a prime example of a very small, radical group of people who want to hijack this issue and make it more absurd than it already is."

The word is appropriate to describe more than opposition to the right to carry firearms, Nelson said, adding he is familiar with the effects of phobias. He has experienced homophobia as a gay man. He also seen hoplophobia as founder of Stonewall, a gay and lesbian gun-rights advocacy group.

Nelson said he has friends who are terrified that a weapon sitting on a table will go off. Some of the group's 350 members don't own guns but attend its classes to overcome their fear, he said.

"People who don't know how to handle them should be afraid," said Mark Zelig, a Salt Lake forensic psychologist. He takes issue with use of the term unless it is applied to a specific class of people like soldiers or police officers who must handle firearms as part of their jobs.

"It sounds like (gun rights advocates) are developing a clinical diagnosis to serve a political need," he said.

While guns don't scare Van Wagenen, he does have a phobia. "I'm afraid of computers myself."

Apparently there is a word for that, too. Maybe there's a logizomechanophobe near you who could go off at any time.