If murder was legal, would there be more murders?

I heard recently that the abortion rate is essentially the same regardless of its legality. When abortion is prohibited, women still get them at the same rate, it’s just less safe.

Also, I’ve been thinking recently that often times, the law is a result of a societal change of heart against a behavior, rather than the cause. For example, seatbelts were around for around 40 years before laws mandating them. Once people started wearing them, then it became against the law not to. And smoking was fine until a critical mas of people became nonsmokers, since then smoking has been a legal target.

My question, in general, is “do laws actually have any effect?”. Specifically, does criminalizing murder result in fewer murders?

I’m pretty sure you have this backwards. When New York instituted the first seat belt law in 1984, nobody used seat belts. It wasn’t remotely a “we already use them so let’s make it the law” type of thing. This is one of the clearest cases of the law changing people’s behavior, rather than reflecting current behavior.

Personally, I have been mad enough to kill before. In deciding not to, one of the factors was the probable fact I’d be going to prison.

I believe that yes it does prevent some murders.

We do not, of course, have any period of time in which murder was legal to compare murder rates with.

If someone killed my family and I saw no justice, you can bet I’d kill too.

On the plus side, it would be legal…

And it would feel soooooo good!

This is correct. The effect is most obvious when comparing the rates of seat belt usage in jurisdictions where seat belt violations are primary offenses* versus those where they are secondary offenses.

*Primary offense means you can be pulled over for not wearing one. Secondary offense means you can only be ticketed for not wearing one if you were pulled over for some other violation.

Speaking only for myself, if murder was legal I wouldn’t go willy-nilly killing people, but I can think of a few people (like the step-parents who abused my wife as a kid) who I would take care of.

I think there would be an increase in murders, but probably not very much. Unlike a lot of other laws, like drugs or theft or whatever, I think that most murders would be done regardless of the level of criminality. I think most people who kill either think they’re going to get away with it anyway or don’t even consider the possility of repercussions because they’re in such an emotional state when committing or planning it. It might affect some pre-meditated murderers who would do it but don’t think they’d get away with it, but I don’t think we’d suddenly see people getting shot on the street for little or no reason.

Another interesting aspect to consider would be how society would react, particularly with vigilantism. If it’s not illegal to kill someone, then it’s not illegal for the friends and family of the victim to either seek out to kill that person themselves or hire someone to do it. In fact, I think that would serve as much of a deterent in getting caught because the standard wouldn’t be whether you’d get convicted but whether the friends and family believe you did it and are willing and able to pursue revenge on their own.

So, I think it would have zero effect on people who commit it out of passion and will have some effect on people who pre-meditate, but probably small and I’m not sure what direction it would go. I still think that, for the most part, the moral rules of society would be sufficient to keep the vast majority of people in check.

Personally speaking, despite how fiercely they seem to enforce the seatbelt laws, I always had ethical issues with the law so I never put on my seatbelt (long explanation, not really relevant). When I got a car that would annoy the hell out of me until I put it on, my motivation was no longer whether or not I should obey a law I thought was unethical and unnecessary, so I felt no reason to do it, but whether I would tolerate being annoyed, so I started wearing it and following the law was just a side-effect.

What are the odds of getting caught/prosecuted following an illegal abortion? What are the odds of getting caught/prosecuted after murdering someone?

I think many people have one or two people they’d do in if they wouldn’t get in trouble, yes. I wouldn’t go around killing library patrons who ticked me off, but I’ve got one person who’d be checking out at one past midnight the day murder became legal. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Sliiiice (sound of throat being cut)

I’d bet a lot of folks would be killed off for their inheritance. There would also be a lot of “taking the justice into your own hands,” revenge kills. And political murders might be worrying. Bosses might be killed right and left, and people in the way of promotions. Drunk teenagers and bullies might go to town in a whole new way.

Edit: Also if murder is not illegal, what about maiming someone? Which leads to the question of torture? Also anything that indirectly relates to death, like negligence, building codes, worry about lawsuits (like asbestos torts, etc). I mean, you can’t have murder be legal but torture illegal, because if someone brought a case against you then you could simply kill them… opens up a huge can of worms.

If murder were legal, there would still be serious consequences for committing it. Specifically, there would be revenge killings. So you wouldn’t go to prison for murder, but you’d likely embroil your family in a vendetta.

I suspect that would deter most murders currently deterred by murder’s illegality. The murder rate would be higher, though, because the class of people who currently commit murder would be busy with extra revenge killings.

When something is legal, the instance of it goes up. When it’s illegal, down. Not sure why this is much of a debate, as this is true of anything.

Not always true. Illegal drug use in Portugal fell when all illegal drugs were decriminalized, and prison time was replaced with the offer of therapy. Source.

I would be interested in seeing a cite for this claim.


Direct comparisons are difficult for obvious reasons; it’s hard to control for religion , access to contraception, sexual repression and so on. It’s presumably even harder to calculate the number of illegal abortions.

It does seem to be true though.

Right, but the OP asked if there would be more killing.

The answer is, definitely.

Even if the abortion rate was lower when it was illegal - is the deterrent against abortion the threat of criminal punishment or the fact that illegal abortion is unsafe and is more likely to result in injury or death?