NASHVILLE - Gov. Phil Bredesen acknowledged Thursday he did little to deter lawmakers from overriding his veto of the "guns in bars" bill, saying that while he doesn't like the measure, he didn't want to put legislative allies on the spot because he has "bigger fish to fry" in getting the state budget passed.
"I guess the issue for me was it seems this would have taken a very difficult, all-out effort," Gov. Bredesen told reporters after the Senate followed Wednesday's 69-27 override in the House by voting 21-9 to override the May 28 veto.
Gov. Bredesen said such an effort "would have put a lot of my friends, I know, in a very difficult position. These issues with the budget and getting a good budget and getting a majority together to pass that budget ... I mean, they in my mind just dwarf everything else."
When he voted House Bill 962 last week, surrounded by top law enforcement officials from across the state, the governor declared that "guns and alcohol do not mix." But he also said lawmakers would "probably" override him.
His comments came after lawmakers said the governor, a Democrat, had done little to nothing to try to persuade House members or senators to sustain his veto. Most Republicans backed the override. So did many rural Democrats.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said he wasn't sure the governor could have garnered the support to sustain the veto anyway.
"I think it (veto) was his way of making a statement," Rep. Turner said.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, the bill's sponsor, rallied supporters to override the measure, saying, "We believe law-abiding citizens should have the right to self-defense."
The new law will take effect July 14. It allows the state's estimated 222,800 handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in establishments that sell alcohol, provided they do not drink.
Businesses also can post signs banning guns that permit holders would have to obey. Critics question the enforceability of the restrictions.
Sen. Jackson spent 25 minutes defending the legislation and criticized news organizations for what he called unfair representations of the bill as "something sinister, something that would threaten the public safety."
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Sen. Jackson said. "We can't find statistically significant evidence of a problem."
Currently, 37 states have similar legislation.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, was the only lawmaker on the floor to urge colleagues sustain Gov. Bredesen's veto.
He said lawmakers "too often" hear only from people who feel "passionately" and "that is certainly the case with this legislation and a lot of legislation."
"But what the governor did," Sen. Berke continued, "I think, is not only did he use common sense in vetoing this bill, but he stood up for the middle, for the people who don't always get excited."
It was the General Assembly's first override of a Bredesen veto in his six-and-a-half years as governor. Lawmakers' last overrode then-Gov. Don Sundquist in 2001. Overrides, while rare, are easily done, requiring only a constitutional majority of the House and Senate, the same number it takes to pass the bill.
"I just think it's an invitation to a disaster, and I wish they hadn't done it," Gov. Bredesen said Thursday of the bill, noting he had no regrets about the veto.
He said he remains undecided about another recently passed bill that allows permit holders to go armed in state and national parks and requires local governments to opt out local parks.
"I'll have to say I don't think it has the same severity in the sense, it's not mixing alcohol with guns which is the really dangerous piece of it for me."
Meanwhile, the Nashville Post reported that former Metro Nashville Councilman Adam Dread, an attorney, said he believes the legislation will not change or alter an existing law that grants local beer boards the power to regulate establishments selling beer.