Sen. Kirk talks guns, health - and the presidential fist bump

February 13, 2013

A day after President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to bring new gun control legislation up for a vote in Congress, Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says he’s cautiously optimistic about gun control measures he’s pushing in the Senate.

“I’m trying to be very Midwestern about this – you know, practical changes that can actually change laws, that can actually save lives,” Kirk said in an interview with WBEZ Wednesday.

Tuesday night’s State of the Union was Kirk’s first since returning to work last month, after having suffered a massive stroke that kept him off Capitol Hill for nearly a year. He’s now one of a handful of senators negotiating new gun control legislation, following the mass shooting at Newtown, Conn. in December. 

For now, Kirk said the focus is on expanding background checks for would-be gun owners, rather than an all-out ban on military-style firearms that many gun rights advocates oppose.

“I will tell you the assault weapon ban is the harder lift,” Kirk said, adding later: “And so what I think – the one that is most likely is background checks that we could probably get through the Congress this time.”

The senator also met Wednesday with the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Chicago girl whose shooting death has thrust Chicago gun violence into the national spotlight. Pendleton’s parents were guests of First Lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday’s speech, and the president invoked her murder to push for tougher gun control laws.

On Wednesday, Kirk said he received permission from Pendleton’s parents to name an anti-gun trafficking bill after their daughter, prompting Kirk to dub Hadiya Pendleton “our silver-lining child.”

At the same time, Kirk said he does not want to “over-promise” on what might be included in a final gun control package, given fierce opposition from some fellow Republicans, and a tough fight in the GOP-led House of Representatives.

On a lighter note, Kirk also reflected on the “exploding fist bump” he shared with Obama as he entered House chamber, minutes before giving the State of the Union. (See video below.)

That goodwill hand gesture – in which both parties bump their closed fists together, then splay their fingers open to “blow it up” – has since spawned a popular internet meme, in which the president seems to be mouthing the word “boom” upon impact.

“I thought to myself, ‘Here I got a chance to do the famous Obama fist-bump, with the guy who has … made it ubiquitous across the country,’” Kirk told WBEZ.

“And I was very pleased when some press outlets said, ‘Best Fist-Bump Ever,’” Kirk said, adding, “These are small things that add up to the bipartisan cooperation necessary to keep this place running.”

The fist bump (via WashingtonPost.com)