NASHVILLE - Legislation allowing Tennessee's 220,000 handgun-carry permit owners to go armed into establishments serving alcohol, including bars, is on its way to Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Senators approved a conference committee report on House Bill 962 Thursday on a 24-7 vote. House members had approved the report earlier this week.
The National Rifle Association's lobbying arm immediately sent an e-mail alert to Tennessee members, asking they contact Gov. Bredesen's office and "respectfully urge him to sign" the measure. Gov. Bredesen has not said where he stands on the bill.
A spokeswoman said Thursday he will review the bill.
The final version allows permit holders in Tennessee and 19 states with reciprocal agreements to go armed in establishments selling alcohol, provided they do not consume alcohol themselves. Permit holders could not go armed in establishments where owners post signs prohibiting guns.
Extending permit holders' ability to go armed into establishments selling alcohol was opposed by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and the Tennessee Restaurant Association.
"There is no evidence that such restrictions would endanger public safety," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, who criticized police chiefs and the news media.
Sen. Jackson said "gun-free zones" do not work and in fact "criminals flourish" there. He cited state figures showing 278 Tennessee permits were revoked last year after permit holders were convicted of felonies.
Among senators voting no was Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga.
"I think that common sense tells you everything you want to know when you vote on a bill called 'guns in bars,'" Sen. Berke said.
Nick Bowers, owner of the Pickle Barrel restaurant in downtown Chattanooga, said if Gov. Bredesen allows the bill to become law, he would "probably have to buy a sign that would state clearly that no one except an officer of the law would be able to bring a gun in the Pickle Barrel."
Mr. Bowers dryly observed that, after several drinks, a person's thinking may be "altered a little bit and sometimes people even become uninhibited ... these people will sometimes steal things or get in fights or various things.
"I don't know if you've ever heard of anything like that, but it does seem to happen," Mr. Bowers said.
Mike Dougher, manager of Rhythm & Brews in Chattanooga, said he doesn't like the idea of guns in the downtown entertainment venue. He questioned the effectiveness of posting signs banning the guns, asking, "Who would catch them? Me? I mean, I'm not going to deal with it."