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.
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, ...