The Senate turned aside a measure Thursday that would prohibit suspected terrorists from buying guns, as a marathon vote series to amend an Obamacare repeal bill morphed into a heated debate over the reach of the Second Amendment.
Though it would not become law — President Obama is poised to veto the underlying bill — Democrats wanted to put senators on record in the wake of yet another mass shooting Wednesday that killed 14 people in California.
Five days earlier, a gunman killed three people at a Planned Parenthood branch in Colorado, bringing gun control back into focus as Congress debates how to prevent homegrown terrorism and whether to defund the women’s health care group targeted in the post-Thanksgiving incident.
Lawmakers voted 45-54 to reject an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, that would bar people on the terrorist watch list from acquiring a firearm or explosives if that person was likely to use them to commit violence.
Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, locked in a tough re-election fight, bucked his party and voted for the measure, which would have needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was the only Democrat to vote against the measure.
The amendment to the Republican-authored budget bill was part of a long series of proposed changes to the fast-track budget bill, which guts the Affordable Care Act and defunds Planned Parenthood because of its abortion practices.
Democrats are using the debate to extract a political price, forcing vulnerable Republicans up for re-election next year to take tough votes.
“Sadly, today Republicans have proven that they are more afraid of the National Rifle Association than of FBI terror suspects buying assault weapons and explosives like those used in the Paris attacks and recent shootings in the United States,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, offered an alternative that would have given federal authorities 72 hours to step in and offer probable cause to deny a gun sale to someone on the watch list.
If the authorities fail to act, Mr. Cornyn said, it would be unfair to let the federal government swoop in and deny someone their constitutional right to bear arms.
Mr. Reid said that measure was dangerous, though it fell five votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.
“There is nothing unconstitutional about preventing a terrorist from buying a gun,” Mr. Reid said.