What is the purpose of laws?

The vast majority of societies have had laws of some nature, indicating that humans generally find them necessary to the operation of a society. In some cases, these laws have been for the benefit of those they govern, like property laws, and in other cases, they’ve been to the detriment, like laws forbidding American slaves to learn to read. Laws have also been based on a number of different structures. Some laws attempt to prevent concentrations of power and attempt to distribute power throughout groups of people. Others create laws from perceived rights, like the right to free speech. And different governments have also had different methods of revising laws; some forbid the governed from advocating for better laws, while others welcome the criticism to attempt to create a more equal society.

In modern society as in historical societies, laws cover a wide range of topics. In the United States, some examples of laws are those against killing, smoking marijuana, walking around naked in public, drinking alcohol under the age of 21, stealing, invading privacy, and carrying a firearm without a permit. People differ in their opinions of the validity of some of these laws, and the purpose behind the law is not clear in all cases.

So, what is the purpose of laws? To protect people from each other, from the government, or from themselves? To improve lives or control lives? Something else? What can the purpose of laws tell us about the validity of our current laws?