Russia’s Gun Culture

The Russian Empire, like most European countries, had very liberal gun laws, with no significant restrictions on sales, possession, or open carry.


Chelyabinsk gun shop around 1900.

After 1905, you needed the permission of the local head of police to buy pistols and revolvers, but this was a very quick affair and granted as a matter of course. Considering the context of the time – (thousands of assassinations of government officials during this period), this was not an unreasonable precaution. There were no laws on hunting rifles at all until 1917.


Russian Gun Shop Poster (1917)

The Soviets began confiscating private weaponry from 1918. Pistols and revolvers were restricted to Communist Party members, as befits the nomenklatura caste society, and would only be allowed for narrow classes of people thereafter. Hunting rifles and shotguns were only available to registered hunters, and acquiring them involves a lengthy and bureaucratic process to this day. As of 2014, Russia scored 3.1/10 on the Gun Rights Index, far behind the US (8.0) and Czechia (6.4), if for now ahead of the United Kingdom (1.5). Incidentally, as of 2016, the Czech homicide rate was twice (!) lower than the UK’s.

In 1935, even some types of knives were forbidden: “Prohibit the manufacture, storage, sale and wearing of daggers, Finnish knives and the like of cold weapons without the permission of the NKVD in the established manner” (Article 182). That’s right: BASED Stalin had the same attitude to knives as Sadiq Khan and Mr. Plod. This provision was later relaxed.

There are a few sovok  trolls in the comments who tell me to go back to Texas because apparently gun rights constitute “transplant Protestant individualism” and “Western craziness.” Both of those things of course being the very definition of the Russian Empire, while the mustachioed Caucasian BDSM master represented the true Orthodox Russia. Another thing they claim is that gun rights would cause Russians to immediately shoot each other up en masse “like Americans do.” But given American criminological statistics, we must also conclude that sovoks believe Russians are behaviorally equivalent to American Negroes. But of course it’s me who’s the Russophobe.

PS. Much longer, comprehensive article on Imperial Russian gun culture (Империя и оружие. В царской России “стволов” в продаже не боялись). Doesn’t seem like a topic that has been written much about in English, for obvious reasons.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. advancedatheist says

    A character in one of Dostoevsky’s novels owns a pair of American revolvers that he had no trouble bringing into the country, apparently legally.

  2. Useful site for worldwide firearms factoids, including estimates of gun ownership and possession by country:

    One of the funny things about USA people, is that they often think they are the only people owning guns in the world, with crazy ideas that ‘guns are banned in Europe’ etc

    When actually, e.g., there are maybe around 75 to 100 million legal civilian-owned handguns, rifles and shotguns in Europe

    In Europe, there tends to be more bureaucracy around gun purchases, and sadly, ‘concealed carry’ permits are rare and difficult to obtain, but there are boatloads of guns in civilian hands. Some French farmers have arsenals that rural Americans would envy, and so on.

    In the USA, it seems that the ‘gun rights’ issue was cleverly used by the oligarchy to help distract USA citizens losing many of their other rights, with the ‘right to concealed carry’ law wave there from the 1990s onwards, whilst the USA in general became a lot more oppressive

    And it is not clear that the psychologically beaten-down USA people would actually be willing to use their guns for revolt

    USA government gun confiscation experiments have been successful. In ‘crisis’ episodes, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, that dodgy ‘Boston Marathan’ bombing, uniformed officers went door to door and found citizens meekly turned over their guns, with apparently no ‘from my cold dead hands – molon labe – come and get them’ from the internet blowhards (or else the cases were hidden)

    And now the USA has been successfully using new confiscation strategies, taking guns away from people based on not-criminally-charged but ‘unstable internet behaviour’, or military veterans with ptsd having seen a psychiatrist etc

    The New World Order plans seem to include minimal firearms in civilian hands, so people will be helpless against gangs of thugs with knives and clubs

  3. There are a few sovok trolls in the comments who tell me to go back to Texas because apparently gun rights constitute “transplant Protestant individualism” and “Western craziness.”

    Well, in medieval Russia the main method of resolving litigation was a court duel. .
    If two women were suing in court, they had to fight among themselves. If a woman sued a man, she could hire a mercenary fighter, but if she sued a woman, she by law had to fight herself. Women in armor who fight as gladiators (and an Orthodox priest is standing next to them to confess and commune the loser before her death) – this is much cooler than the рrotestant Texas.

  4. Guillaume Tell says


    What are the chances of the currently rather mediocre gun right index of Russia increasing?

    Is this cause popular amongst ordinary Russians?

    And how do the Russian elites perceive it? I have seen pictures of Putler at the gun range ostensibly presented by Kremlin-friendly media. So he certainly is not anti-gun at a personal level.

  5. Yevardian says

    Wasn’t that Verkhovesnky or Shatov in Demons?

  6. Daniel Chieh says

    You can duel with guns too.

    Duels are an interesting version of having skin in the game.

  7. German_reader says

    in medieval Russia the main method of resolving litigation was a court duel

    That sounds like judicial combat and other forms of the ordeal in Latin Christendom which were seen as divine judgement; iirc it came out of use in the 13th century (it was prohibited in the 4th Lateran council in 1215). What was the history of such practices in Russia?

  8. Anonymous says

    Guns are seen as something used by the military, not for the common folk. There is also zero support for letting everybody own weapons.

  9. Daniel Chieh says

    What are the laws on firearms for private bodyguards? I imagine its considered necessary as part of their work.

  10. No, it’s not a popular cause, because of strong sovok attitudes and (in this case misdirected) anti-American propaganda.

    However, it’s certainly not at zero, as the last anonymous commenter claims.

    Around 15% of Russians consistently support gun freedom in opinion polls, while 80% oppose it.

    However, these figures are substantially higher among; relative to a 2012 poll in which the average was 13%:

    • LDPR voters (22%)
    • Men (20%)
    • 18-30 (16%)
    • High incomes (20%)
  11. michael dr says

    “Incidentally, as of 2016, the Czech homicide rate was twice (!) lower than the UK’s.”
    That is a bit of a cheeky comment.
    Without even looking we all know the general crime rates in UK are much higher than Czech.
    And we all know that every analysis that was ever made of guns and gun crime points one way.

  12. I’m not sure I follow the political argument.

    Karlin is intelligently liberal in this area, but maybe here like in a few other topics a little distorted (from living abroad) to seeing history in Russia as a more exotic and more interesting than it is (even though all governments became more illiberal with their rising power in 20th century, you didn’t need Bolsheviks for this).

    Situation of illiberal gun laws emerging in 20th century in Russia, is not divergent from all other major countries of Europe. And a similar process can be seen in laws relating to narcotics as well.

    Globally, there’s a reason some historians call 19th century “century of liberalism” (and 20th century, “century of illiberalism”).

    The distinction between America and in Russia, is that while in Russia is was largely a product of lack of state capacity (with only a few intelligent elites understanding philosophically about importance of liberalism for the better segments of a country), in America the liberalism was also a product of lack of state capacity, but in this concrete topic intelligent people noticed it could be under threat in the future, and able to codify it in their law books.

    Americans have stayed liberals in this one concrete area, because they were fortunate to have codified law covering the topic, and with a liberal position being consensus among their intellectuals, due to civil militia nature of their independence.

    It’s not that Americans are naturally more liberal than Europe but because unusual history in America and that there were enough intelligent people to codify liberal policy in this one concrete area within their (very rigid and intentionally difficult to change) law system.

    In area of narcotics policy, though, we can see no divergence between American and Europe. It was once possible in many places in the world, including Russia, to buy cocaine in the pharmacy. But the civilized policy never diffused to enough of public to create a consensus (even in America – where right to buy narcotics never codified, as right to buy gun was), and with rising state capacity of 20th century, this part of life was completely defenseless even in America (where liberal policy had been codified in many other areas).

  13. Anonymous says

    Around 15% of Russians consistently support gun freedom in opinion polls, while 80% oppose it.

    This is very similar to the percentage of Americans who support socialism. Do you think that socialist America is just around the corner?

  14. Well, now that you ask…

    Rasmussen is famous for having questionable polling methodology that tends to privilege conservative/older people.

    In another poll from 2016, it was found that American millennials are essentially split on preferring capitalism vs. socialism:

    Indeed, the victory of Ocasio in New York, on a far more radical platform than any mainstream leftists in Europe, is also telling.

    So no, I wouldn’t exclude the possibility of a socialist America by 2030 (even if it is unlikely). And I wouldn’t exclude the possibility of nationalist-run Russia with gun freedoms by 2030 (even if it, too, is unlikely).

  15. What was the history of such practices in Russia?

    The history is about the same as in Catholic Europe. The judicial combat (which were seen as divine judgement) was first mentioned in documents of the 13th century. In the 14th-15th century judicial combat becomes (by law) the main way to solve court cases. There were some restrictions (“civilian” could refuse to fight with a professional warrior, the priest could hire a mercenary instead of himself, etc.) but otherwise everyone had to fight, and the refusal to fight meant an automatic defeat in court. In 1554, the use of judicial combat were severely restricted, and by 1649 judicial combat were no longer used.

  16. German_reader says

    Thanks, that’s very interesting. Strange that the first mention is so late, it’s a pretty archaic concept (in Latin Europe its origin is commonly supposed to lie in the primitive mentality of the Germanic peoples who supplanted the Roman empire, and judicial combat is already attested in the early middle ages).

  17. But it’s not an issue sensitive to public opinion, like doing “market research”. Gun manufacturers could see 15% of people want guns, but – as we all know, barrier to selling guns, are the rulers, and question is why would it be in self-interest of current rulers to change laws about this.

    There’s a reason almost every government (apart from American and Switzerland), once they develop stronger state capacity in 20th century, created antiliberal laws. They didn’t do “market research” before to see popularity of antiliberal laws – they just banned it, even when it was unpopular, as a way to increase their own power. Public then retrospectively supported the antiliberal position, because it is official policy, not vice-versa.

    Allowing citizens to buy guns, is a danger to power of rulers, and a requires a much more mature intellectual liberal consensus to restrain and limit the power of rulers.

    In Switzerland, or America, the practical reason for liberal gun law is low state capacity as everywhere in 19th century – but they codified it as their law, because ruling elite is very diffused, intellectual bourgeoisie and could foresee they wanted power to distributed equally amongst citizens, so that no individual group could seize government and displace the rest.

    In Russia/Belarus – even with growing diffused bourgeoisie, we are one of the least likely candidates currently for obvious reasons, as there is no talk about diffusing power. In Belarus this year, they will even try to ban air guns.

    Probably most likely candidates are within EU itself, in places where where there is power distributed among growing diffused bourgeoisie, and some kind of antitotalitarian, liberal consensus amongst intellectuals, and a strong influence of American culture. Most likely countries to introduce American gun laws soon – maybe Estonia/Latvia/Lithuania/Poland/Czech Republic/Hungary?

  18. It actually was a very stupid fashion, if we would have valued, for example – reading mature works of Pushkin or Lermontov, who were killed as a result of this fashion.

    And I’m sure in Germany, there were many similar cases.

    The anglosaxon world seems to have avoided this (while it spread in small scale to Ireland).

  19. German_reader says

    You’re confusing duels with judicial combat. Dueling like it was still done in the 19th century was about questions of honour, whereas judicial combat like in the middle ages was a way to resolve judicial issues, in the absence of a more rational justice system (as it had existed in the Roman empire).

    The anglosaxon world seems to have avoided this

    Not true, Commodore Decatur (“my country right or wrong”) was killed in a duel, and Andrew Jackson killed a man in one.

  20. Oh I thought we guys talking about duels, I do not read carefully. Either way it’s very stupid.

    Lol judicial combat is even crazier – you can just be good a shooting, and win every law case. Nowadays, journalists that write rude newspaper articles about celebrities, or women which are often getting divorced – would get really good at shooting.

  21. Duke of Qin says

    Don’t knock it too hard, I bet it was an extremely good method of keeping Jews out of your legal system.

    I think the biggest intent though was to encourage people to arbitrate disputes among themselves in peaceful fashion and not clutter up the courts and thus waste state attention and resources on usually minor trifles. If you had to fight each other to the death over a case of stolen chickens if you brought it to the attention of the government, you would probably work extra hard to find a way of amicably resolving the issue without the state getting involved.

  22. That’s an interesting perspective.

    However, it obviously didn’t affect all countries. Czechia has very liberal laws. Off the top of my head, Finland is also pretty liberal. Some of the Balkan countries. Switzerland.

    Funnily enough, the DNR has extremely liberal gun laws. The Azov people were whining about it.

  23. Expecting increased litigation, Jews would be training from childhood to be better shooting than everyone else, leading to increase in antisemitism, as they not only sue, but also cause mass deaths among people they sue – generally today including many beloved celebrities.

    Number of oligarchs and celebrities would be reduced though, as endless litigation cases naturally thinning their population.

  24. Daniel Chieh says

    Not really. Guns were inaccurate enough that it came down to luck often enough – Andrew Jackson’s actions at his duel with Charles Dickinson were considered as quite improper. Most duels never reached completion, being essentially a kind of game of chicken.

    Its an interesting variation of “skin in the game” as mentioned before; playing with reputation involving deadly consequences. Code duellos involving blades were often vastly complex and interesting; I don’t know how Russia’s were setup. Note that a lot of duels were “to the first blood” or “to the satisfaction”, which meant that they were not to the death, though poor medical care at the time meant that a serious injury could easily lead to death.

    Guns vastly increased the lethality of duels and probably played a large role in its abolition, because quite a few young elite died in duels, when previously scars, etc. were seen as a casual matter of pride.

  25. Currently, civilian ownership by country data is kind of random (although I guess it is one of the best proxies for de facto gun laws in the countries).

    Poland is one of the lowest, so maybe my prediction above was really inaccurate.

    Elevated rates in – Switzerland, Serbia, Austria, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway.

  26. In Russia (as in France and Germany), duels can be read in many 19th century novels.

    Obviously skill was involved as people used to train endlessly in it. And some good duelists, go to challenge many people and always winning.

  27. The anglosaxon world seems to have avoided this (while it spread in small scale to Ireland).

    Duelling happened in Britain and America too, although it was stamped out several decades earlier. Canning and Castlereagh fought a famous duel. Hamilton died in a duel (good riddance).

  28. Daniel Chieh says

    Obviously skill was involved as people used to train endlessly in it. And some good duelists, go to challenge many people and always winning.

    There were a few, but killing people eventually will get you murdered in a dark alley, and once guns were involved, the game of numbers becomes increasingly riskier to play. Even someone like Eugène Vidocq, who was considered as an infamous duelist only killed two or three people despite fighting over fifteen duels.

    Novels are novels. Having duels resolved by having seconds work out something to settle hot tempers(which happened a lot) is pretty boring in comparison to having life and death on the line.

  29. Real source on gun freedoms:

  30. Thanks – someone needs to ask the people who work on Wikipedia if they can compile this data this into a colorcode map.

    Some of the countries high scoring, are because of no state capacity, like Yemen.

    All East Asian countries are equal or below 2. China is only 0.5.

    Outside Baltic states, post-Soviet countries all below 3.1. But Baltic states the best in Europe (outside Switzerland and Czech Republic)? – between 4.5(Latvia)-5.2 (Lithuania).

    Kind of consistent attitude with economic agenda of Baltic states and Czech Republic since 1990s.

  31. Reg Cæsar says

    Finnish knives

    Are those anything like “Arkansas toothpicks”?


    This sounds very, well, stupid, and ugly in English, and a lot of Czechs themselves know this, at least those conversant in English. (I asked some.) That the Czech government is asking us to call them this is the equivalent of (getting back on topic) shooting oneself in the foot.

    “Bohemia” and “Moravia”, though, are quite euphonious names. So much so that they’ve spread to other uses. (“Czechian Rhapsody”, indeed.)

    twice lower than

    Again, you’re forgiven for being a non-native speaker, but this is aping some of the most abominable habits in Anglospheric writing today. There are still sticks-in-the-mud about language and logic around, and “me and them” are going you hold writers to it!

    Besides, the correct term– half– is only four letters. Easy as π.

  32. Joe Stalin says

    “And it is not clear that the psychologically beaten-down USA people would actually be willing to use their guns for revolt.”

    An entire enterprise called “Project Appleseed” ( -Revolutionary War Veterans Association) has been created to rekindle the Revolutionary heritage of the American people and teach them to properly use a rack grade semi-automatic rifle e.g. AR-15, AR-10, M-1A(M-14) to engage Redcoat targets out to 400 yards has been in operation for some time now. It was created by a former Chicago resident to foster the combat capabilities of the US citizens since he observed that most gun owners tended to be “cooks” in their marksmanship ability. Over 100,000 Americans have been trained through this program.

    The Federal government has their own Civilian Marksmanship Program where they will sell American citizens Combat Rifles and M1911A1 . 45ACP pistols.

    The overall idea is to make the US Citizen a tough nut to crack under pressure of armed coercion.

  33. for-the-record says

    The judicial combat (which were seen as divine judgement) was first mentioned in documents of the 13th century.

    In Russian is this called Ордалии? If so, this would suggest that it was probably an “imported” custom, and hence the relatively late arrival.

  34. for-the-record says

    whereas judicial combat like in the middle ages

    Interestingly, though, trial by combat was not formally eliminated in the UK until 1818, in response to a successful (from the point of view of the defendant) invocation of it. And the last actual UK trial by combat was apparently only in 1583, upon the conclusion of which “The victor presented the head to the bench as proof of verdict, although not everyone was convinced God had made the right decision”.

  35. Yevardian says

    Russia is not a high-trust society like Czechia, nor is it free of restive minorities or already inundated with civilian weapons, so I doubt the wisdom of promoting ‘gun culture’ there. Average gun owner in Russia:

  36. This site does not have accurate information, unfortunately. Mark of 6.4 for the CZ is too high.
    You cannot get automatic weapons, suppressors, etc.. It is allowed only on exemption authorized by police and only for those who need it for their job and theoretically for collectors.
    For almost all semi-automatic, revolvers etc., you need a prior permission from police (for every single of them and also for concealed carry of them). And then registration.
    Generally, most others (hunting and many historical) need at least registration.
    You do not have to register only air guns (to 16J), airsoft-s and similar (mechanical, expansion, on or two shot historical, …).
    Registration results in a “paper” for every gun.
    There are also clear rules for storage.
    Prior allowing you to get guns, you have to pass an exam, having no criminal record (sort of), no know abuse of substances, …. Plus you have to pass health exams (and in some cases psychological exams too).

    The ups are that self-defense is still considered a valid reason and concealed carry.
    From that index I would see it similar to Estonia, with few up points.
    So, maybe 5.0 to 5.5.

  37. Guillaume Tell says

    Thank you for providing these data points.

    Clearly if those numbers are to be believed, gun freedom is not going to happen anytime soon in Russia.

    That said, I believe that American-type gun freedom is bad in the context of multiracial dystopias — say, California or Illinois for instance, for it ignores basic HBD realities.

    I think a 2 or 3-tiered system like exists in several countries, where people get vetted (and where racial bias is consistently albeit discreetly applied) on a regular basis, which amounts to an aristocratic approach to gun rights, is better. The French system in that regard is pretty good (index of 4.0, but which does not IMO reflect the fact that for white men who constitute the bulk of gun clubs, it is relatively easy to legally own a formidable arsenal).

  38. Guillaume Tell says

    As a gun owner myself (like in many guns and a lot of ammunition), I like the fact there where I live, felons, retards, and mentally unstable people are not allowed to own firearms. I also like the fact that the gendarmerie’s background check in practice (not officially of course) systematically decline the permits to the kebabs.