Hex Signs

Here are some hex signs used by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

The Pennsylvania Dutch used to put these hex signs on the sides of their barns, supposedly to ward off bad luck or evil spirits. Many folklore experts now believe that they were just used for decoration although the symbols might have some magical meaning. Whatever the case, putting up a sign with a geometric design to keep away evil seems to be a silly superstition.

Here are some more signs that people put up to ward off evil.

These work about as well as the hex signs, which is to say, not at all. The idea seems to be that a criminal or madman intent on mayhem will see such a sign and turn away in frustration because the sign prohibits him from carrying his guns any further. I can’t imagine anyone is simple minded enough to believe this. Either such signs are a triumph of magical thinking over reality or they are meant to ward off a particularly vicious species of goblin known as the lawyer.

I hadn’t intended to write anything about the recent school shooting in Connecticut, but the sight of politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg taking advantage of the atrocity to demand stricter gun control laws prompted me to say something regarding gun control. The simple fact is that most proposed gun control laws are based on the same type of magical thinking as those signs above. The idea seems to be that if we pass strict enough legislation, all the guns will magically disappear, and everyone will live happily and peacefully ever after. That is not going to happen

Put aside all the debates about the Second Amendment and whether citizens have the right to own guns. Put aside the observation that criminals tend not to obey the law and will find ways to obtain guns no matter what the law is. Put aside also the question whether disarming law-abiding citizens and leaving them at the mercy of the criminals will really make anyone safer. The simple fact of the matter is that there are between 200 and 300 million privately owned guns in the United States. These guns are not just going to go away. Criminals will certainly not turn their guns is, and neither will many law-biding citizens. This will have the effect of turning many of these law-abiding citizens into criminals if they continue to possess firearms that are made illegal. Look up Prohibition sometime to see how a policy that turns honest people into criminals works out.

Of course, no one is talking about making possession of guns illegal, at least not yet, but any policy short of mass confiscation is not likely to take the guns out of the hands of the bad guys. Registering guns, stricter laws against felons or the mentally ill possessing guns and the like are good ideas for a start, but they will not prevent the felons, etc from simply stealing or illegally obtaining guns.

So what can we do to prevent another tragedy like the one that occurred yesterday? The truth is, not much. That is not what people want to hear, but it is the truth. No matter what precautions we take, things like this are going to happen. Maybe we could do a better job spotting the crazy people before they commit such acts. Maybe we should rethink the idea of committing mentally ill people who are a danger to themselves or others to hospitals where they can get the treatment they need. Maybe gun owners and dealers should be more responsible about keeping their guns secure. I just don’t know.


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