Tennessee Senate overrides guns in bars veto

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The Tennessee Senate voted 22-10 on Thursday to once again override the governor’s veto of a bill to allow handgun carry permit holders to bring weapons into bars and alcohol-serving restaurants.

Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen last week vetoed the guns bill sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, on the basis that “guns and alcohol don’t mix.” The House had passed the bill on a 66-31 vote, while the Senate approved it by a 23-9 margin.

“On this issue, I respectfully submit to this body that the governor is wrong,” Jackson said before Thursday’s vote.

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.

“I haven’t gotten a complaint from a single citizen that a permit holder made them feel uncomfortable,” Jackson said.

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.

The governor said earlier this week that he expected Thursday’s override of his veto, which takes only a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. Jackson said he expects the House to also override the latest veto because it initially passed by a large margin.

Bredesen in his veto message called this year’s version “expansive and dangerous.”

Jackson said he’s reached out to the governor to get details of his concerns, but “I have had no communication from the administration.”

“If the governor believes the legislation poses a threat to public safety, then I think communication should have taken place between the executive branch and the legislative branch,” he said.

Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker issued a statement that the governor has “clearly communicated his concerns with this legislation with the members of the General Assembly, through his public statements and through his veto messages to the House and Senate speakers. He believes this bill violates the fundamental principle that alcohol and guns don’t mix.”

Sen. Beverly Marrero, a dissenting voter and vocal opponent of gun legislation, agreed.

“There are those of us who do not think that it’s a good idea to have guns in bars, in places that predominantly serve alcohol,” said the Memphis Democrat.

Last year’s version sought to exclude places 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 made no exclusions for where guns can be carried, as long as permit holders don’t consume alcohol.