While millions of people are waiting to see how the Biden Administration’s new ATF gun control rule on pistol braces plays out in Congress and the federal courts, we have the strategy on how to stop it – without waiting on the feds – from the “Father of the Constitution” himself.

Writing in Federalist 46 – James Madison gave us a four-step blueprint of how to stop federal programs – without waiting for the federal government to somehow, magically limit its own power.

His strategy focuses solely on actions by states and individuals, bypassing the feds completely. And Madison told us that following it would be extremely effective in stopping federal acts:

“would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”

In short – a single state following Madison’s strategy would create troubles for the feds. A large state would cause serious issues for federal enforcement – and should a number of states take the same approach, the feds wouldn’t be able to overcome it.

Keep in mind, this was at a time when the federal government was so tiny in comparison to today – it would be unrecognizable. These days, in an era where the federal government relies on states to help enforce “most federal programs,” the strategy is even more powerful.

With that in mind, here are James Madison’s four steps – as applied to the unconstitutional pistol brace rule.

“The disquietude of the people.”
Madison expected the people to throw a fit when the feds usurped power or tried to implement unpopular policies. When it comes to this pistol brace rule, this is pretty straightforward: People need to be really outspoken – protesting – online and off.

This is already happening today – but the people need to continue, and ramp it up.

“Their Repugnance and Refusal to cooperate with the officers of the Union.”
You and I probably consider this new gun control rule by executive order to be totally repugnant to the Constitution, to the 2nd Amendment, and to the principles of liberty. True, it is absolutely disgusting. But in context, this is likely not the way Madison was using the term.

The leading dictionary of the time defined repugnance as “disobedient; not obsequious” (compliant). So, if you want to stop the federal government, you have to disobey them. Madison also suggested that people would perhaps directly refuse to cooperate with federal agents.

This is something we’re seeing right now in response to the pistol brace rule.

According to ATF spokesman Erik Longnecker, “As of June 1, 2023, ATF received 255,162 applications for tax-free registration.”

This isn’t the whole picture, as some people may have voluntarily destroyed their braces, but it is significant despite the fact that some are willing to give up their liberty so easily.

The Reload puts it this way:

That number represents just a fraction of the braced guns believed to have been sold in the decade since the ATF first classified a version as outside the scope of the NFA. In the impact assessment for the rule, the ATF estimated that three to seven million devices exist. However, the Congressional Research Service puts the number much higher at somewhere between 10 and 40 million.

That puts the registration rate for pistol-brace-equipped guns at between 0.6 percent and eight percent.

“The frowns of the executive magistracy of the State.”
Here Madison envisions governors formally protesting federal actions. This not only raises public awareness; executive leadership also leads to the next step – legislative action in the states.

“Legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions.”
Madison kept this open-ended, but we’re certainly seeing it happen today.

For example, combining steps 3 and 4 earlier this year, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, denouncing the pistol brace rule – and notifying him that state law bans the state from helping the ATF enforce it. 

“Our right to keep and bear arms is integral to Montana’s and our nation’s rich heritage, and this rule directly violates our long-held traditions,” he wrote.

“As a matter of law, the State of Montana and its political subdivisions cannot enforce, or assist the ATF with enforcement, of this rule. The 2021 Montana Legislature passed, and I signed into law, House Bill 258.”

Thankfully, Montana is not alone in this effort. Missouri and Arizona also have laws on the books banning enforcement, and depending on how things are implemented under state law, Idaho could be on board as well. This was covered in some detail in a Path to Liberty podcast episode earlier this year.

Just weeks later, Kentucky joined in with a new law based on the Montana law, banning state and local enforcement of the pistol brace rule.

Four or five states is a good foundation, but it needs to be far more to guarantee a victory for the 2nd Amendment and liberty.


As Thomas Jefferson told us, “the ground of liberty is to be gained by inches,” so there’s certainly potential to make this resistance stronger and highly effective.

When it comes to stopping the pistol brace rule – all four of James Madison’s steps are in motion right now, but this isn’t the end of the story.

Ultimately, we don’t know if the good guys are going to win, but they can if the people and states hold firm, and build on this foundation.

Samuel Adams may have summed it up best: “All might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”

Michael Boldin

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