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Mark Kirk endorsed by Gabby Giffords’ anti-gun PAC

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. | Associated Press and Sun-Times photos

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kirk, who is locked in a re-election battle with Rep. Tammy Duckworth, was endorsed on Monday by the anti-gun violence PAC founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., because of a vote he cast after the Sandy Hook school slaughter.

Though Giffords is a Democrat, her Americans for Responsible Solutions political arm would be ineffective if it refused to back Republicans who support legislation to curb gun violence.

Duckworth, the group said, would be a “leader” on “gun safety” if she were elected to the Senate.

The endorsement is a big plus for Kirk, whose campaign highlights his splits with other Republicans on guns, gay marriage, urging a vote for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and his withdrawn backing for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, founded their organization after she and others were gunned down on Jan. 8, 2011, at a “Congress On Your Corner” event near Tucson. Giffords was shot in the head.

Giffords and Kelly wrote in a CNN op-ed:

“In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk broke from the gun lobby and supported a bill to help prevent felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms at gun shows and online.”

“This week, they are earning our organization’s endorsement.”

The legislation, which eventually failed, was offered after the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 students and six adults.

“Sen. Mark Kirk has been a steady voice for bipartisan, responsible change that helps keep guns out [of] the wrong hands, saves lives, and makes Illinois a safer place to live. He has stood up to the gun lobby and worked across the aisle for plans that reduce gun violence and protect the rights of law-abiding Americans,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC in a statement. “We need more Republican leaders in Congress like Mark Kirk, and that’s why we are endorsing him for re-election in 2016.”

Duckworth spokesman Matt McGrath said the overarching factor for voters to consider is that Kirk backs Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who make it almost impossible for bills to curb gun violence to advance in the Senate.

“Mark Kirk is a reliable vote for Mitch McConnell, who has made it absolutely clear that any bill to address the scourge of gun violence is DOA in the Senate he controls,” McGrath said in an e-mail. “So Kirk’s claim to be a leader on the issue isn’t just hollow, it’s flat-out wrong. Make no mistake, if the voters of Illinois choose to send Tammy Duckworth to the Senate, she will work tirelessly to pass commonsense solutions to address gun violence, and unlike Kirk, she’ll work to persuade her colleagues to join her.”

The PAC for the group also announced it was backing Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. also facing a tough bid to keep his job.

ON TAP: Duckworth on Tuesday keynotes a session at the City Club of Chicago, where she is expected to go after Kirk – either in formal remarks or in talking with reporters – about Kirk calling President Barack Obama last week a “drug dealer in chief.”