- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

Membership passes?

When a law is passed by Congress and signed into law it’s supposed to go into effect — or at least that’s what Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, always assumed.

As author of the Terrorist Exclusion Act, which became law in 1996, Mrs. Snowe, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has written to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell questioning his department’s implementation of the law to deny — or even permit — a potential terrorist entry to the United States.

“In the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, I was astounded to learn that, with only limited exceptions, membership in a terrorist organization in and of itself was not sufficient grounds for visa denial,” the senator writes to Mr. Powell.

“Instead, burden was placed on the U.S. government to prove than an individual was either personally involved in a terrorist act, or planning one — a threshold that made it virtually impossible to block dangerous aliens such as Sheikh Omar Rahman, the mastermind of that 1993 bombing, from entering the country legally.”

Mrs. Snowe says the intended effect of her legislation was to ensure that members of “foreign terrorist organizations” could be excluded from the United States based solely on such membership. She now wants to know how — or even if — the State Department is enforcing the law.

If it’s not being enforced, she wants to know through what processes and mechanisms are waivers granted to those seeking visas who are members of “foreign terrorist organizations.”

The senator even requests that Mr. Powell provide “the Department of State’s definition of ‘terrorist.’”

Uncle Sam’s Gun Shop

It sounds like a good thing — the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act — but the measure introduced by Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, both Democrats, is “gun grabbing” pure and simple, says the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

“The bill, if ever enacted into law, would in effect so transform the entire firearms industry that it would become completely dominated by federal bureaucrats,” committee spokesman John Michael Snyder says. “The ability or inability of a law-abiding American citizen to own or use a gun would be something determined by a fiat of Washington federal bureaucrats.”

As its authors (Mr. Kennedy was in Arizona yesterday campaigning for Rep. Richard A. Gephardt’s presidential campaign) would tell you, the Kennedy-Corzine proposal, now referred to committee, would give the Justice Department authority to set minimum safety standards for the manufacture, design and distribution of firearms, issue recalls and warnings, and limit the sale of products when no other remedy is sufficient.

Gary Mehalik of the National Shooting Sports Foundation agrees with Mr. Snyder that “the ulterior motive here, as it has been in the past, is for the restriction on firearm rights under the false premise” of ensuring safety.

“The best way to ensure safety of the firearms,” Mr. Mehalik says, “is to have a safe human operator.”

Witherspoon, et al.

There was an anniversary over the weekend that few Americans knew about.

Yes, the written Declaration of Independence was dated July 4, but it wasn’t signed until Aug. 2. In other words, Independence Day should have been celebrated this year on Saturday.

Or should it have been July 2? After all, it was on that day in 1776 that the Continental Congress voted for independence.

“John Adams, in his writings, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations,” educates historians at the National Archives.

Here’s what else archivists tell us: Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was edited by Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson took their edits and incorporated them into what would become the version finally adopted.

John Hancock signed first “with a large hand right in the middle” because he was president of the Congress. The others signed by state delegation, beginning in the upper right in one column, and proceeding in five other columns arranged from the northernmost state (New Hampshire) to the southernmost (Georgia), although Thomas McKean of Delaware is believed to be the last person to sign.

After the signing ceremony of Aug. 2, the Declaration was kept in Philadelphia. But on Dec. 12, under British threat, it departed with Congress for Baltimore. The declaration then continued to travel throughout the Northeast, until it was finally moved to Washington in 1800.

More than a dozen years later, when the Brits threatened again, the document was actually moved to a gristmill in Virginia. Later, as the Brits were torching the White House, it was moved again to Leesburg, Va. Even as late as World War II, the document was put aboard a Pullman train and transported to Fort Knox for safekeeping.

On Sept. 18, the National Archives will reopen its rotunda to present a newly re-encased Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Oh, and one final piece of trivia: Actress Reese Witherspoon is a direct descendant of John Witherspoon, one of the 56 signers of the Declaration. John Witherspoon is even pictured in the famous Barry Faulkner Mural, “The Declaration of Independence,” showing the 28 delegates to the Continental Congress of 1776.

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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