published Friday, May 29th, 2009

Tennessee: Bredesen nixes mixing guns, alcohol

Audio clip

Freeman Cooper

NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed legislation on Thursday allowing Tennessee’s 220,000 handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in establishments selling alcohol.

Flanked by law enforcement officials from across the state, including Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper, Gov. Bredesen declared in a news conference at the Capitol that “guns and alcohol don’t mix.”

In issuing just his sixth veto in 61⁄2 years in office, the governor said state law has long followed a “common sense proposition” that bans patrons from carrying loaded weapons into bars and restaurants selling alcohol.

“The notion that this bill would permit one to carry a concealed weapon into a crowded bar at midnight on a Saturday night defies common sense, and I cannot sign such a measure into law,” Gov. Bredesen said. “As you consider this veto, I respectfully ask the legislature to rethink this issue.”

House Bill 962 also prohibits handgun-carry permit holders from drinking alcohol and also allows establishments selling alcohol to post signs banning guns.

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who sponsored the legislation, predicted the Legislature will easily override the veto with a simple majority vote needed in both houses.

“We’re probably going to set up an override next week,” Rep. Todd said. “There’s going to be a showdown like at the OK Corral, except that the legislative branch and the people of Tennessee are going to win this one. ... It puts me into a position like Wyatt Earp.”

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, the Senate sponsor, was more circumspect.

“I’ll be honest, I’m not prepared to make that declaration (veto override),” he said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Phil Bredesen, and I think I need to sit down and listen. ... But I will make this point: During the debate, Gov. Bredesen has never sat down and discussed this with me.”

Sen. Jackson also vigorously defended the bill, noting that Tennessee permit holders since 1997 have demonstrated a “remarkable record of safety ... responsibility.”

State records show that, since 2005, nearly 1,200 people have lost their handgun permits for felonies and other problems, a percentage Sen. Jackson has called a tiny fraction under 1 percent. The senator said 38 states have similar laws allowing permit holders to go armed in establishments carrying alcohol and have seen no great public outcry.

Moreover, he observed, Tennessee governor’s powers are “weak” when it comes to overrides. Overriding a governor only takes a constitutional majority or 50 of 99 votes in the House and 17 of 33 Senate votes.

Gov. Bredesen conceded that point earlier in his news conference, which featured more than 50 law enforcement officials and several prosecutors. But he said the legislation and similar handgun-related bills have changed repeatedly during the legislative process.

He acknowledged there is a “great potential, probable likelihood” of his veto being overridden, which would be the first override in his gubernatorial tenure.

Gov. Bredesen said lawmakers “might talk to their own local law enforcement officers to see what kind of impact on them there. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure cooker up here.”

Metro Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas said arguments by proponents such as the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association that guns allow permit holders to protect themselves against criminals miss the mark.

“I’ve witnessed shootings in bars before,” Chief Serpas said. “The presence of somebody else with a gun would not have saved anybody. These things happen in the blink of an eye. It’s not like it is on TV.”

Chief Cooper later said allowing handguns in establishments selling alcohol is a “mistake.” He likened the situation to licensed motorists getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol despite knowing laws ban such behavior.

He also said permit holders with “good intentions” could lose possession of their gun in a bar “and someone else who has no idea what’s going on because they’ve had so much to drink that day is going to use that gun and kill many people who never would have been harmed probably had that gun not been in that facility.”

“There’s no good that can come from a gun in a bar just because there are laws that allow it,” he said.

As originally passed by the House, House Bill 962 sought to keep handgun permit holders from bringing firearms by setting curfews that prohibit weapons between the hours of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and banning them from establishments with age restrictions. That passed on a 70-26 vote.

But the Senate removed those restrictions and passed the bill on a 26-7 vote. A House/Senate conference committee agreed on the Senate version of the bill and it then passed the House on a 66-23 vote.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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KWVeteran said...

“I’ve witnessed shootings in bars before,” Chief Serpas said. “The presence of somebody else with a gun would not have saved anybody. These things happen in the blink of an eye. It’s not like it is on TV.” I doubt that Serpas has witnessed any such thing at all. Is he being misquoted or attempting to convince us of his imagination?

May 29, 2009 at 7:51 a.m.
redbearded said...

The article conveniently omits the fact that permit holders are not allowed to drink while carrying guns in establishments serving alcohol. Besides that, what makes any rational person think that someone can't go back to the truck and get the gun they left there? Legal permit holders have carried weapons into bars for years.

May 29, 2009 at 9:22 a.m.
Salsa said...

I'm a strong supporter of a citizen's right to carry a firearm but guns and alcohol do not mix. This is a bad law and I applaud the governor for this veto.

May 29, 2009 at 9:29 a.m.
Vandy said...

redbeard, are you saying that legal permit holders did not follow the law when they carried into a bar? I thought only thugs were the ones who ignored the law.

May 29, 2009 at 9:35 a.m.
brandon83 said...

I carry my weapon legally into grocery stores that sell alcohol and nothing bad happens. Why am I not allowed to carry into a restaurant that serves alcohol? I would not be drinking since it is against the law and will remain against the law, which I agree that it should. You are correct that consuming alcohol and having a loaded weapon around do not mix.

Also, the argument about a person "losing" their weapon is ludicrous. I have never lost my weapon while legally carrying at restaurants where alcohol is not served or while running errands around town. Why am I all of a sudden going to "lose" my weapon because some people around me may be consuming alcohol? Many robberies occur in parking lots and it would be great if I could have a chance at protecting myself or my family while walking to a restaurant and not have to worry about leaving my weapon locked up in the car or at home where it serves me no purpose.

May 29, 2009 at 9:38 a.m.
brandon83 said...

Vandy, I understood redbeard's comment to be concerning permit holders in states where carry is allowed into restaurants that serve alcohol. I know I have carried into restaurants that serve alcohol, in states which allow it, with no negative consequences. Of course I was not consuming alcohol because that is against the law while carrying.

May 29, 2009 at 9:40 a.m.
redbearded said...

I am also under the impression (maybe mistakenly) that if you have a carry permit, you can carry, period. Wherever. If you truly believe that permit holders haven't carried weapons into bars, you're naive.

May 29, 2009 at 9:44 a.m.
OllieH said...

When speaking of the Legislature's effort to override the Governor's veto of this bill, I find it odd that Representative Curry Todd should liken himself to Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral.

The event that led to the gunfight at the OK Corral was when Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday tried to disarm Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Claiborne, Ike Clanton, and Billy Clanton under the authority of City Ordinance No. 9, which declared it to be "unlawful for any person to carry deadly weapons, concealed or otherwise within the limits of the City of Tombstone."

May 29, 2009 at 9:45 a.m.
jhhobbs said...

I think it was a very smart move by the Governor. I am glad he is looking out for our interests. This was just a move by the Legislature to pander to the NRA and their own personal interests.

It is going to be difficult to enforce this law. Are bartenders now suppose to ask for a gun permit in addition to an ID?

It really troubles me that Rep. Todd is comparing this to a showdown at the OK Corral. That doesn't send a good image.

May 29, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.
EaTn said...

Don't you gun toters out there worry. The special interest group in Nashville will have their boys hog-tied and the veto overridden before you can say "give me a two-finger Jack".

May 29, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.
nooganCCP said...

I know, it would be horrible if I as a non-drinker went with my family to Outback Steakhouse. I am sure gunfire would erupt. Wow, is there no end to the gun haters? People keep calling this guns in bars but it is more about guns in restaurants. It is SO much better for me to leave my gun unattended in the car. I have had my permit and have not shot anyone to date. I guess if I went to Outback or Red Lobster or O'Charley's I would get all "yee-hah" and brandish my gun.

May 29, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.
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