Is tyrannicide (killing of a tyrant) legal in America? I was thinking about this after I heard it was legal in Julius Caesar era Rome. Also, how will we as a society decide when someone is a tyrant, or when the government is tyranical and we should remove them?

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the entire basis of the Second Amendment, i.e. if a tyrant were to take over the US, the people would be well-armed enough to overthrow them?
    – F1Krazy
    Feb 20, 2022 at 11:05
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    @F1Krazy the second amendment is rather vaguely worded, so whether it means that is a matter of controversy, and in any event "overthrow" does not mean "kill."
    – phoog
    Feb 20, 2022 at 11:15
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    Law.SE might be the better place for this.
    – Allure
    Feb 20, 2022 at 11:59
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    @allure I guess, I was hoping to discuss if from a political POV
    – Kovy Jacob
    Feb 20, 2022 at 12:41
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    @F1Krazy - Not at all. With the American Revolutionary War a recent memory, the Second Amendment was largely put in place so that states could have militias to protect them from foreign invasion (such as a retaliatory act from Great Britain, as in fact happened later on), as is stated quite clearly in the amendment itself.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 20, 2022 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


In the US killing a private citizen is illegal except in self-defense or the defense of others (or if... well, let's not get political). Killing a public office-holder carries even higher punishments. A failed tyrant might be publicly executed for treason under federal law, but that's an extremely high bar to meet. A successful tyrant will undermine US law, so this question becomes moot.

Killing a tyrant would only be 'legal' if the supposed tyrant were engaged in a violent crime or public insurrection, and the man doing the killing was directly involved (a victim of the crime, or part of some armed opposition to the insurrection). It's a weakness (and strength) of democracy everywhere that even the worst of us can make political statements and take political actions with relative impunity.

If we ever see a successful tyranny in the US (which we inch closer towards every day) then you will have to ask whether it is legal under that political system to kill a tyrant, because the US system will be defunct. But tyrants generally don't approve of tyrannicide (for purely selfish reasons) so that's unlikely to be legal either.

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    I think it should also be noted that the constitution defines constitutionality of something not legality of it.
    – Joe W
    Feb 20, 2022 at 15:30
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    @KovyJacob: The Declaration isn't law; it's a call to insurrection against the then (ostensible) tyrant George III. Feb 20, 2022 at 15:33
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    @KovyJacob If anything, it’s a model that can be used to write a new manifesto for a new rebellion against the government. But even in the Declaration, nowhere do they suggest King George is not the legitimate king of Britain or that he should be killed. He just should not be their king, because he was being tyrannical to them.
    – Bobson
    Feb 20, 2022 at 15:47
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    @KovyJacob: Because it's insurrection. Period, full stop. Insurrection cannot logically be legal, because insurrection obviates the rule of law. If someone wants to declare the US govt a tyranny and depose its duly elected leaders (installing leaders they prefer) that is by definition an insurrection. If they win, fine; they can say it's legal after the fact, once they have the power to write law. If they lose, they are criminals and traitors, nothing more. Feb 20, 2022 at 15:48
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    "except in self-defense or the defense of others": or in accordance with a death warrant issued by the executive pursuant to a conviction and sentence of death imposed by a court.
    – phoog
    Feb 20, 2022 at 17:42

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