Don’t be too quick to ask the Government to Legislate Morality

Atticus is the author of the progressive-right political and lifestyle blog BlogTruth. His experience spans almost a decade providing business and IT consulting services to firms across the globe. Stop by his blog and say hello.

The theory is that if you make a law that presents a serious consequence for  misbehavior it will discourage an individual from taking said action. This is certainly plausible; however, sometimes the Government takes their law making too far by infringing on our rights and ignoring the inadvertent consequences. We can examine a few cases:


In the 1920′s a large portion of the U.S. Government and citizens agreed the consumption of alcohol was immoral. In response to these feelings the Government created legislation outlawing it. This seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but people still wanted their booze. Since demand remained high for alcohol the law inadvertently created a secondary market for it. This secondary (black) market was filled by criminals.

As a result of the illegality of alcohol sales several things happened: violent crime increased, legitimate businesses lost revenue or went out of business, criminal organizations became rich, crime bosses became famous, and normal men who wanted a casual drink became criminals to do so.

In the end criminalizing alcohol did more harm to society than good.

Drug Use

Today we see a similar situation regarding the prohibition of drugs like Marijuana. The current laws try to prevent people from obtaining addictive and harmful substances, but have once created a secondary black market almost identical to the days of 1920’s prohibition. Criminals capitalize on drug sales and distribution to become rich off the proceeds.

In contrast to the American strategy, Portugal recently decriminalized all drugs. It has been a resounding success. Drug use actually dropped, the number of violent crimes fell, and so did the overall incarceration rate. We see a similar effect in Holland where marijuana is legal.

Again legislating morality has failed.

Gun Control

Everyone agrees that harming another innocent human being is the worst of crimes, but it is a jump in logic to assume creating further legislation to restrict the way law abiding citizens obtain guns will help. In theory, the tougher the laws the less likely a criminal or child will have the ability to access a weapon. Again, this is false.

When you make weapons illegal or create non-sensible laws around weapon control it only serves to prevent those who intend on following the law from obtaining weapons – not criminals. (Hint: Criminals break the law) By outlawing or restricting weapons you effectively disarm the public without effecting criminal organizations at all. Another black market is created in which only criminals profit (see the pattern here?).

In fact, the data shows no evidence that legislation alone prevents firearm related violence at all. Rather other factors such as education and cultural norms dictate behavior – not because the Government said you can or cannot do something. The change in behavior doesn’t come from the legislation – it comes from the people. The moral behavior of a developed nation has almost nothing to do with strict gun or drug laws. Improvements are made because the population has collectively agreed to do the right thing.

If you want to change a behavior – especially one that involves personal liberty – the answer is not to make a new law. The answer is to change the hearts and minds of the people.


  1. All laws attempt to control morality; it’s only a matter of degree and extent (e.g. reasonable restrictions on the ability to aquire guns vs. gun control, which is quite different from laws about murder, violence, theft, etc.). Where things get muddy is when government tries to use laws to control vice (e.g. smoking, drinking, drug use). These are more often attempts to control people, rather than protect them.

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