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Article

Imperial legality through ‘exception’: Gun Control in the Russian Empire

Journal of Modern European History. 2021. Vol. 22. No. 4.

Several days after a failed assassination attempt on the life of the Russian tsar on April, 2 1879, a new regime of "permission to exercise the right to purchase and carry weapons" was introduced in St. Petersburg. Despite the fact that the first attempt on Alexander II's life occurred in 1866, also in St. Petersburg, it took thirteen years to make a radical departure from the previously unrestricted regime of access to arms in the capital of the Russian Empire.

In this article I analyze archival materials documenting how this new regime of weapons ownership was implemented. In particular, I am interested in the dimensions of locality and temporality in the practices by which imperial legislation introduced gun-control in St. Petersburg and Warsaw, the Russian Empire's most cosmopolitan cities. The archival documents that I rely on show that the gun control regulations that were intended as a repressive act of the authorities in reality unfolded as a process of negotiations and merciful exclusions. The imperial legal order's intermediaries reacted to the international challenges posed by emergent revolutionary movements, including the negotiation of the permissible restriction of subjects' rights. As a result, new practices of “public safety” were implemented as exceptional measures — both locally and temporally. This article sheds light on the imperial legal regime of gun control as a practice of ‘exception.’