The Senate beat back a new push to expand gun rights Wednesday, defeating a plan to let gun owners carry their weapons on federal lands in states where it would otherwise be legal.
Still, Wednesday's vote drew more support than last month's efforts to impose new gun controls in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, suggesting that Second Amendment supporters retain the momentum in the gun debate.
The 56-43 vote was four shy of the 60 needed to be adopted under Senate rules.
At stake was the ability to carry weapons firearms on Army Corps of Engineers lands in states where carrying weapons is legal already.
Under federal rules, it is illegal to carry weapons on Corps lands unless specifically for the purpose of hunting. Sen. Tom Coburn, who wrote the amendment, said people should be able to carry weapons for self defense, too — and said it's already legal on Forest Service and Park Service lands.
"Why would we dare deny the rights that we give everywhere else on federal land — why would we do something different on Corps land?" the Oklahoma Republican said.
The gun showdown came as part of a broader debate over a public works bill.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, who led the charge against the amendment, said it could have created a national security risk because Mr. Coburn's bill would allow guns to be carried near critical infrastructure such as dams or reservoirs, which could be considered a national security risk. Mr. Coburn denied that, saying other parts of federal law still prevent carrying weapons near critical infrastructure.
Mrs. Boxer pleaded with colleagues not to go into another gun debate.
"This is not a gun bill. I beg my colleagues, whatever side you are on, we cannot turn this bill into a gun bill," she said, threatening to pull the bipartisan public works bill from the floor if the amendment succeeded.
The vote was the first gun showdown since last month's effort to pass more gun controls failed.
Gun control advocates had hoped that the shooting deaths of 20 schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December would spur Congress to expand background checks and ban some types of semiautomatic weapons. But the most important of those proposals garnered just 55 votes of support, leaving it five shy of the threshold needed.
On Wednesday, 11 Democrats and one liberal-leaning independent voted with all but one Republican to allow carrying on Corps lands.
Several years ago Mr. Coburn won an amendment that expanded the right to carry firearms to National Park Service lands. Mr. Coburn said since then, crime has dropped at parks, and he hasn't heard of any problems under the expanded rules.
The Park Service didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Eleven Democrats who voted for the parks measure in 2009 voted against Wednesday's Army Corps version, including Majority Leader Harry Reid and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy.
One Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, voted against the parks amendment in 2009 but voted for the Corps amendment this week.
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