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Sen. Kirk hopes name of Hadiya powers bill

Mark Kirk Capitol WashingtD.C. January 2013.   |  U.S. Senate photo

Mark Kirk at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in January 2013. | U.S. Senate photo

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Updated: April 18, 2013 6:58AM

Just last month, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) sat down for what he called a critical meeting in helping influence the direction of legislation in Washington.

It was with the family of slain teenager Hadiya Pendleton.

“It was a meeting in which my goal was to try to bring back Hadiya, to know what she was like as a 15-year-old girl, what her final weekend was like,” Kirk said in a phone interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Pendleton family told Kirk about how Hadiya, a majorette from the South Side who was shot to death in Chicago just after traveling to Washington, D.C., for President Obama’s inauguration, had called her parents from a souvenir shop in Washington.

She wanted to know what she could bring back for them.

“It was painful to hear,” Kirk said of the meeting. “This life was ended too soon.”

“I asked, ‘who shot your daughter?’” Kirk said the family believed, from press reports, that it was a Gangster Disciple. “The very worst gang seems to be directly involved in this case.”

“I thought I can actually do something,” Kirk continued. “If I could name a section of this bill after Hadiya, we would get a greater chance of getting passage.”

As the rancor over gun legislation in Washington ramps up, Kirk detailed his positions on gun control to the Sun-Times, making his most extensive public comments about the issue since his January return to the Senate.

In addition to the Pendleton family meeting, the junior senator from Illinois has met with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and just this week talked with President Barack Obama — to discuss guns and trafficking.

Kirk had suffered a major stroke one year earlier and underwent extensive rehabilitation, including having to learn how to walk again.

He had been on leave until Jan. 3, when he made a dramatic ascent up the Capitol steps.

“I’m definitely the happy warrior on the Senate floor,” said Kirk, who in a 25-minute phone call sounded more at ease and spoke more clearly than he did when he first returned in January. Kirk still must curb his travel and expects to be back to Illinois for the first time this year in April.

“Thrilled to be back, it has really led to quick recovery for me. For me, it has given me energy and purpose. It has been surprising, actually, when you see legislative achievements, [I’m] more legislatively active than before the stroke.”

To some in the midst of the gun debate, Kirk landed back on his feet just in time.

A Republican with long-held moderate stances on gun control, Kirk has ended up helping broker what could become the biggest effort on Capitol Hill to tackle gun violence.

“I’ve kind of been the good guy in the middle always trying to be the glue of a bipartisan group,” he said.

In January, Kirk and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) proposed the first bipartisan gun safety legislation of the new Congress, which took aim at traffickers and the flow of illegal weapons. Kirk, who has long had a frosty relationship with the National Rifle Association, is also working on legislation with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) to expand background checks.

Kirk explained he wanted to pass a law that required background checks in the purchase of a firearm but would allow exemptions for temporary transfers and family. “That’s all the details that you’ve got to work out as part of any legislation,” he said.

Kirk first became involved in the gun issue as a congressman representing the north suburban 10th Congressional District — the eastern corner of the state. That included Waukegan, where the gang violence rages not unlike a smaller version of Chicago.

“Gang members outnumbered the police,” Kirk said. When law enforcement learned the gang members carried AK-47s, it grew alarmed. “I got to know a lot of Waukegan police officers … I wanted to make sure the police were not outgunned by the gang members.”

Waukegan would be just a microcosym of a broader issue statewide, he said.

“Illinois is number one per capita in gang membership for population,” he said. “We have more gang members in our state, it is a long-term economic threat to our future.”

While serving in the House, Kirk first introduced a ban on assault weapons.

Kirk said he met with Emanuel last month in an ongoing effort to fight the scourge of gun violence in Chicago.

“What Rahm and I discussed was guns and gangs, I have this long-termed wish that we pick them all up and throw them in the hoose-gow,” Kirk said of gang bangers. Realistically, he said both he and Emanuel agreed the trafficking bill would go a long way to help curb gang violence.

Last month, Kirk and Emanuel met for an “extended meeting” in Kirk’s office following an Illinois delegation breakfast, according to the mayor’s deputy director of communications, Kathleen Strand.

“The mayor and Senator Kirk have worked together closely on efforts to crack down on illegal gun trafficking and fighting dangerous drug gangs,” Strand said. “This is a huge priority for Mayor Emanuel and he is very glad that Senator Kirk is so committed to public safety; the senator’s role in the gun trafficking and background check bills was a main topic of conversation when they met together in D.C. last month.”

Kirk said in a phone call with the president, which also involved a discussion on North Korea and Iran, Obama talked about Kirk’s trafficking legislation: “The expectation is he will be supportive of our efforts.”

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