TRENTON - A bill that would limit gun buyers to one handgun purchase every 30 days fell one vote short of final legislative approval yesterday when it could not muster enough support in the state Senate.

The plan's sponsors said limiting the handgun purchases that can be made at one time would fight "straw buys" in which a person with a clean record acquires many guns and passes them to criminals. Opponents argued that New Jersey already had tough gun laws, and that additional burdens would only restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The plan had won approval in the Assembly, and Gov. Corzine has said he would sign it if it reached his desk.

But the plan received only 20 of the 21 "yes" votes yesterday needed for approval. Every Democrat supported the plan except for Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney and State Sen. Fred Madden, both of Gloucester County, and State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May). Every Republican voted no, except for State Sens. Phil Haines (R., Burlington) and Jennifer Beck (R., Monmouth), who abstained. - Jonathan Tamari