Gov. Phil Bredesen this week vetoed a renewed effort to allow Tennessee handgun carry permit holders to bring their weapons into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
The Democratic governor said in a letter to Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville that he based his decision on a principle he learned more than 50 years ago in a safety course sponsored by the National Rifle Association: “Guns and alcohol don’t mix.”
The NRA has been a vocal supporter of the guns in bars measure passed in Tennessee the last two years.
Bredesen vetoed a similar measure last year, flanked by law enforcement officers and prosecutors who opposed the bill, but he was easily overridden by the Legislature. It only takes a simple majority in both chambers to turn back a veto.
“The General Assembly has essentially re-passed last year’s legislation in an even more expansive and dangerous form,” Bredesen said in the letter. “For this reason, I cannot sign this measure into law.”
Ramsey, who is running for governor, said he expects the Senate to vote to override the veto next week.
“We overrode the veto once, I’m sure we can do it again,” Ramsey said. “This is much ado about nothing.”
Democratic Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis said she supports the governor’s veto.
“The majority of people in this state really don’t want people in bars with guns,” she said. “Unfortunately there’s a large group of people up here that will probably override the governor’s veto.”
Last year’s version sought to exclude establishments that predominantly serve alcohol, but a Nashville judge declared the law “unconstitutionally vague” because Tennessee makes no legal distinction between bars and restaurants.
This year’s bill makes no exclusions for where guns can be carried, as long as permit holders don’t consume alcohol.
Ramsey disputed Bredesen’s claim that the new measure is more dangerous.
“I disagree 100 percent,” Ramsey said. “I don’t understand why he would even say that.”
The measure would apply to the state’s 270,000 handgun carry permit holders. Bar and restaurant owners would maintain the power to ban all weapons from their establishments.
The governor acknowledged that the “number of votes this matter gathered” makes it unlikely the veto will stand. The House passed the bill 66-31, while the Senate approved it by a 23-9 margin.
“But as you consider this veto, I again respectfully urge the legislature to rethink this issue,” Bredesen said.
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