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Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed the guns-in-bars bill today, finally showing a little backbone by defying the National Rifle Association and its lapdogs in the legislature. With police officers and prosecutors from across Tennessee at a press conference, the governor said:
"The notion that this bill would permit one to carry a concealed weapon into a crowded bar at midnight on a Saturday night defies common sense, and I cannot sign such a measure into law."
Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas was just as blunt: "Weapons in a bar fight are never a good thing." Serpas pointedly disputed the main argument of gun proponents, that law-abiding citizens with handguns can prevent crimes in bars and make everyone safer. "Everytime I've seen someone shot in a bar, someone else with a gun would not have made a difference because those things happen in the blink of an eye," Serpas said.
It made quite a picture for the media, Bredesen standing tall with all those iron-jawed lawmen as he exercised his veto power for only the sixth time as governor. But legislators already are vowing to override the veto next week, and they almost certainly will succeed. All it takes is a majority vote in the House and Senate. The bill passed both chambers by large margins--the House 70-26 and the Senate 26-7. Even Bredesen admitted he knows "the great potential, probably the likelihood of an override." Which begs this question: Why didn't the governor do all this before the bill passed when it might have made a difference?
Asked that question at today's presser, Bredesen mumbled something about how bills change in the legislative process and he was waiting to evaluate the final product. But this bill always allowed guns in places that serve alcohol. By equivocating, the governor missed his opportunity.
Here's the governor's veto message to House Speaker Kent Williams and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey:
I am vetoing House Bill 962.
I am a strong supporter of the right to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by both the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 26 of the Tennessee Constitution. I believe these provisions guarantee an individual right to bear arms, and I am unequivocally committed to preserving this American right.
Americans have also understood for more than two centuries that there are sensible rules that we apply to the exercise of these rights. I have been a life-long supporter of the responsible and appropriate handling and use of firearms. As a young man growing up in a small town, I attended a gun safety class in my high school sponsored by the National Rifle Association. A basic tenet taught in that class was this: "Guns and alcohol don't mix." This seemingly common sense proposition is as true today as it was almost 50 years ago.
In recognition of this basic principle of firearm safety, Tennessee state law has long prohibited the possession of firearms in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. House Bill 962 would remove this protection in a manner that I, along with many law enforcement officers, believe to be reckless and lacking basic safeguards to ensure public safety. The notion that this bill would permit one to carry a concealed weapon into a crowded bar at midnight on a Saturday night defies common sense, and I cannot sign such a measure into law. As you consider this veto, I respectfully ask the legislature to rethink this issue.
Comments from Doug Jackson and Kent Williams.