NASHVILLE -- It took all day, until almost 4 o'clock, for the Tennessee House of Representatives to get around to voting on an override of Governor Phil Bredesen's veto of a bill permitting holders of gun-carry permits to bring loaded guns into bars and restaurants. But such suspense as the wait might have generated was dissipated quickly as it became evident that the House was in a mood to rebuff Bredesen.
Last-minute speeches supporting the veto were mounted by Representatives Jimmy Naifeh of Covington and G.A. Hardaway of Memphis, both of whom quoted remarks critical of the bill from Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell and Memphis police chief Larry Godwin.
If the reception given Naifeh, the body's former longtime Speaker, was at least polite, there was palpable restlessness of members as Hardaway spoke. Speaker Kent Williams of Elizabethton grew visibly impatient himself as Hardaway was speaking, and, as soon as the Memphian terminated, Williams addressed the membership with a statement of the obvious.
"You know how you're going to vote," he said, and asked for a vote without further ado.
The final tally was 69 votes in favor of the measure, 27 opposed. That meant that the bill, which passed the House originally by a 66-23 margin, actually gained adherents in the interval.
Representative Curry Todd, who represents a Collierville district and was the principal House sponsor of the gun bill, was in no mood afterward to be conciliatory. Asked if he felt like apologizing to Bredesen for his widely criticized remark that the governor knew "where he can put" the veto, Todd responded, "I'm still waiting for his apology."
Dismissing the fact that the state's major law enforcement and restaurant associations had come out against the bill and that several uniformed lawmen had stood behind Bredesen at the veto ceremony, Todd noted that, as he stood in the dock and asked for an override, he, too, had been flanked by former law enforcement officers. There had been six in all, it appeared, all in plain clothes.
And Todd said that restaurant owners had never campaigned seriously against the bill. "I know. I talked to a lot of them."
The override was characterized as a practical response to crime by both Todd and Chris Cox, a former Memphian and the National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist, who was in Nashville and was introduced on the floor by Todd as the House convened Wednesday morning.
Soon after the House vote, the governor's office released this statement: "Governor Bredesen said last week when he vetoed this bill that he expected an override. He's disappointed with this action but that doesn't change his belief that we can exercise our second amendment rights and common sense at the same time. He believes guns and bars simply don't mix, and this legislation doesn't provide the proper safeguards to ensure public safety. Governor Bredesen stands by his decision to veto the bill."
A veto override vote is expected in the state Senate "first thing in the morning," said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville, the Senate Speaker. A similar outcome is expected there.