Hamilton County lawmakers divided on 'guns in bars' veto override

Hamilton County lawmakers divided on 'guns in bars' veto override

May 30th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower, Matt Wilson and Andy Sher in News

Gov. Phil Bredesen signs a veto for a bill Thursday, May 28, 2009 in Nashville, Tenn., that would have allowed Tennessee handgun permit holders to take their weapons into establishments that serve alcohol. Behind Bredesen are law enforcement members from around the state. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Gov. Phil Bredesen signs a veto for a...

At least three Hamilton County lawmakers say they plan to support an expected override attempt of Gov. Phil Bredesen's veto of legislation allowing handgun-carry permit holders to bring loaded firearms into establishments selling alcohol.

"I would vote to overturn it," Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, who supported House Bill 962, said Friday.

But Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who voted against the measure, will not be backing the override either.

"I think the governor did the right thing by listening to the concerns of professionals in the law enforcement community and doing what we can to stop this bill from becoming law," Sen. Berke said.

Sen. Berke said while he supports Second Amendment rights, "you just cannot say too many times that guns and alcohol do not mix."

Flanked by some 50 police chiefs, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation on Thursday, saying that while he normally backs Second Amendment rights, "this bill crosses the line of reason" and that "guns and alcohol don't mix."

Gun-rights groups' anger over Gov. Bredesen's veto, just his sixth in 6 1/2 years as governor, continued unabated.

Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris in an e-mail called on supporters to look at photos and videos of the veto event in order to "help us identify the police chiefs, officers, and district attorneys who stood with Bredesen on this."

"We want to compile a list of their names, districts and supervisors," Mr. Harris wrote, calling on supporters to post the information to the group's online forum.

In a sharply worded response, Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said "reasonable people can disagree" on the veto "but to launch a grass-roots effort designed to intimidate and retaliate against law enforcement clearly crosses the line of what's appropriate."

Meanwhile, the executive director of the National Rifle 's Institute for Legislative Action, Chris Cox, in a statement accused Gov. Bredesen of having "betrayed" a "trust," saying the governor during his 2006 reelection "had committed to supporting this legislation."

Ms. Lenker provided a copy of the governor's responses to the NRA's 2006 survey. Asked if he would support legislation allowing "concealed handgun permit holders to carry firearms into restaurants that serve alcohol," the governor checked a box that said, "Yes, I would support such legislation."

But beside the question, the governor also inserted this: "I would support any such measures as long as they contained provisions to adequately protect the safety of the public."

On another portion of the survey, Gov. Bredesen checked a box saying he would also support repealing a law that keeps otherwise qualified citizens, who had voluntarily sought residential mental health treatment, from obtaining a handgun.

In his veto, the governor said the legislation dubbed by critics as the "guns in bars" bill removes a long-standing prohibition against loaded guns in establishments selling alcohol in a manner he and "many law enforcement officers believe to be reckless and lacking basic safeguards to ensure public safety."

The original House bill had banned guns in establishments after 11 p.m. and also banned them from age-restricted venues in an effort to keep them out of bars and nightclubs. The provisions later were dropped.

Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper, who attended Thursday's veto event, did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview about Mr. Harris' e-mail. He said Thursday he fully supported Gov. Bredesen's veto.

Rep. Favors commended the governor for his veto.

"I certainly concur with the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms," she said. "However, we also have a right to pursue happiness so you can't just take one section of the Constitution out and craft 85 bills around that one section, and that is what I feel has been done."

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, a retired Chattanooga police officer, said he plans to back a veto override "unless I get calls and e-mails convincing me otherwise. I'm doing what my constituents tell me."

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said, "I supported the legislation for the past two sessions. I suspect I would support (the override)."

Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, said, "I can't say just because I voted for the bill I would override the veto. He (Bredesen) asked us to reconsider, and I will."

During the House's May 7 debate, Rep. Cobb said he had not supported the measure in the past but noted, "I've also heard an overwhelming response from my constituents and therefore I will be placing my opinion second to the will of my constituents and I will be supporting this legislation."

Overriding a veto in the 99-member House and 33 member Senate takes only a simple majority.