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A proposed seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases survived an important test in the Senate early Friday when lawmakers rejected an alternative measure backed by the National Rifle Association.

The Senate voted 54-44 against the NRA-backed alternative, which gun-control supporters said was merely designed to sabotage the waiting period in the so-called Brady Bill.Utah Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch voted for the alternative measure.

The alternative, proposed by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was similar to a plan rejected by the House last month when it passed the Brady Bill in an historic break with the NRA.

Instead of requiring a waiting period, Stevens' measure would have given states two years to set up a system to let gun dealers check computerized criminal records to determine if a purchaser was a convicted felon.

The vote to defeat the proposal was important test for the Brady Bill in the Senate, where the measure's supporters had acknowledged they faced a tougher fight than in the House.

The waiting period bill is named after former White House press secretary James S. Brady, who was left disabled when he was shot in 1981 by a gunman who tried to kill President Reagan.

The Senate version would require police to conduct background checks of gun purchasers during the one-week waiting period to prevent handgun sales to felons and people with mental illness. It would authorize $40 million to help states improve computerized records to develop instant check systems.

It is part of a larger Democratic crime bill that Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said he hoped would be passed today before the Senate begins its July 4th recess.

But under Senate rules, gun-control opponents would be able to propose further amendments that could delay passage of the bill.