Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed the new version of the guns-in-bars bill Tuesday, telling legislative leaders that "guns and alcohol don't mix."
Bredesen also vetoed last year's bill at a news conference attended by law officers and prosecutors against guns in bars, but he easily was overridden by the legislature.
This year's bill aimed to overcome a court test. Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman tossed out last year's law as too vague to be enforced. It allowed the state's 270,000 handgun carry permit holders to take their firearms only into establishments that earn more than half their sales revenue from food, not alcohol. But since no patron could figure out which establishments were which, permit holders were apt to run afoul of the law accidentally.
This year's version allows guns into restaurants as well as bars, no matter how much of their sales comes from food. Bredesen called that "even more expansive and dangerous."
"I am a strong supporter of the individual right to bear and keep arms, and I hold this right sacred as both an American and a Tennessean," the governor wrote in his veto message. "I am a gun owner, and I exercise my rights as a hunter and in various other shooting activities as well. I value the constitutional right that allows me to protect my home and family. In Tennessee, this fundamental right has long been exercised with common-sense, reasonable rules. These rules don't diminish our collective freedom, but instead ensure that this fundamental right is exercised in a common-sense manner that ensures the survival of the right itself.
"Until last year, Tennessee had long prohibited the possession of firearms in bars and restaurants that served alcohol. The legislation that passed last year removed this protection in a way that I, along with many law enforcement officers and innumerable private citizens, believed to be reckless and lacking in basic safeguards to public safety. A 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, 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 this measure into law."
The legislation passed with at least two-thirds majorities in the House (66-31) and Senate (23-9), meaning both chambers have well beyond the simple majorities needed for a veto override.
“I am disappointed that the governor fell victim to emotional appeals that obscured the facts involved in this issue," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson. “Government should not make laws that prevent citizens from protecting their own lives or the lives of their families. The law should not require good citizens to become crime victims. I’m confident we have the votes to override this