Friday, May 29, 2009

Veto of guns-in-bars bill may not stick

House sponsor confident he has votes to override By Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • May 29, 2009 Gov. Phil Bredesen, surrounded by law enforcement members from across the state, vetoes the bill that would have allowed handgun permit holders to take their weapons into establishments that serve alcohol. MARK HUMPHREY / ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed a bill Thursday that would have allowed handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, sending a message that may prove only symbolic. Bredesen delivered the veto before an assembled group of law enforcement officers, saying that he opposed the bill while supporting Second Amendment rights. "Americans have also understood for more than two centuries that there are sensible rules to be applied to the exercise of those rights," Bredesen said. "I believe this bill crosses that line." The veto is the sixth of Bredesen's tenure. He has never been overridden. Nashville attorney John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said Bredesen's veto was "futile" in the face of lawmakers' previous support. "It just demonstrates an amazing amount of arrogance for him to think he can veto this," Harris said. Bredesen said the majority of letters and calls he had received were from supporters of the bill, but added that he didn't think the volume of messages reflected most Tennesseans' opinions. "This is an issue in which a relatively small proportion of people … consider it a very important thing," Bredesen said. "A relatively large number of people think that it's a crazy thing, but that it doesn't rise to the level of writing the governor about it." Supporters of the bill say it will affect only the 218,000 handgun carry permit holders in the state, and could deter criminals carrying guns illegally from shooting someone in a restaurant. Not so, said Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas, who said he worries about additional bystander injuries in shootings if more guns were involved. "When you actually investigate these cases, someone else wasn't going to make a difference," Serpas said. "These things happen in the blink of an eye." Restaurant owners cheered Bredesen's veto. Boscos co-owner Andrew Feinstone put signs up this month banning handguns in his three Tennessee restaurants, including in Hillsboro Village, in anticipation of the bill becoming law. "I think it's great that the governor vetoed it, and hopefully it doesn't get overridden," Feinstone said. "I don't have anything against guns. I'm a hunter myself, but guns and alcohol — not a great combination." The state currently prohibits anyone from drinking alcohol while carrying a gun in a restaurant. Opponents of the bill say it would be difficult for restaurant owners to determine who had a gun before serving alcohol. Override vote sought Bredesen issued the veto shortly after lawmakers adjourned for the week, saying they would consider their actions before reconvening. "I'd hope they would talk to some of their local law enforcement officers," Bredesen said. "It's easy to get caught in the pressure cooker up here." Collierville Republican Rep. Curry Todd, who sponsored the bill, said he intends to call for a veto override, which could come as early as next week. To override the veto, the House will need 50 votes of its 99 members before sending it to the Senate. There, 17 of 33 members would have to approve the override. The House passed the most recent version of the bill 66-23. The Senate passed the bill 24-7. "I don't think it will be an intense fight at all," Todd said. "We'll have the 50 votes easily." Dickson Democrat Sen. Doug Jackson, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said he would be slower to decide if he would support a veto override of his party's governor. "I respect the man immensely, I respect his office, and I'm going to thoughtfully listen to what he had to say," Jackson said. "I hope he sat down and listened to the legislative debate." A similar bill allowing handguns in local and state parks is headed to Bredesen's desk after passing in the House this week. Bredesen said he would review the legislation before making a decision.

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