NASHVILLE -- Gov. Phil Bredesen on Tuesday vetoed legislation allowing Tennessee's estimated 270,000 handgun-carry permit holders go armed in restaurants, bars, museums and other establishments licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption.
In his veto message to the General Assembly, Gov. Bredesen said the latest version of the so-called "guns-in-bars" bill is an "even more expansive and dangerous form" than the "reckless" version he vetoed a year ago.
Lawmakers easily overrode last year's veto. But a judge later overturned the 2009 law, calling it unconstitutionally vague because it allowed guns in establishments meeting certain food service requirements that permit holders could not reasonably be expected to determine.
That led to this year's bill. It lets permit holders go armed in any establishment selling alcohol for on-premises consumption provided they do not drink and the establishment does not post signs banning guns.
Sponsors of this year's bill voiced confidence they have the votes to override Gov. Bredesen yet again.
"Tennessee is a 'weak governor' state. It only requires a simple majority of each house to repass the legislation," said Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, who noted the bill this year again passed by "super majorities."
Lawmakers are "simply trying to give Tennesseans the same rights under the Second Amendment that have been given to millions of citizens across the country," he said. "I am disappointed that the governor fell victim to emotional appeals that obscured the facts involved in this issue."
House sponsor Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, criticized the governor for not communicating with lawmakers about problems.
"It's just another example of the governor vetoing a bill and never getting involved in or having any suggestions in regards to what should or shouldn't be in it," Rep. Todd said. "I plan to override him again, next week. No question that (the override) will happen again."
Overriding the veto requires 17 votes in the Senate and 50 votes in the House. The bill passed the Senate on a 23-9 vote, and House members approved it 66-31.
While the governor's veto letter to House Speaker Kent Williams, an Elizabethton Democrat, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, was dated Tuesday, Gov. Bredesen is currently visiting China.
Asked if Democrat Bredesen faxed his veto letter from China to Tennessee, gubernatorial spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said via e-mail the governor "signed the veto letter before his departure. As he prefers to take the full time allotted to him to consider a bill, the veto was issued today, the due date of the bill."
Governors have 10 days, excluding Sundays, to decide whether to sign, veto or allow a bill to become law without their signature.
In his veto message, Gov. Bredesen repeated his statements, first voiced last year, that he was taught in a National Rifle Association-sponsored gun-safety class a half century ago that "guns and alcohol don't mix."
He said the "successful court challenge to last year's actions provided the General Assembly with a second opportunity to reconsider and adopt a more responsible approach to this issue.
"Instead," he said, "the General Assembly has essentially re-passed last year's legislation in an even more expansive and dangerous form. For this reason, I cannot sign it into law."
He said he is "well aware" of the majorities the bill received this year, "but as you consider this veto, I again respectively urge the legislature to rethink this issue."
The list of establishments now includes restaurants, bars, beer taverns, nightclubs, museums, zoos and other entities that have state liquor licenses or local beer permits for on-premise consumption. That includes the Tennessee Aquarium and the Hunter Museum of American Art. Spokespersons at both institutions say signs have already been posted banning guns.
Senate Speaker Ramsey, whose office carries the title of lieutenant governor, said in a statement that the governor's veto is no surprise.
"I am confident we will override his veto, just as we did last year," he said.
The Tennessee Firearms Association's Legislative Action Committee said in an e-mail that "as expected, Gov. Bredesen has vetoed HB3125/SB3012 proclaiming once again that guns and alcohol do not mix. Apparently, like our U.S. Attorney General commenting on Arizona's law recently, he did not read the bill."
The gun-rights group said it "expects this to move forward swiftly with a veto override."
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, ...