Mark Sanford town hall meeting

Congressman Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, speaks with Will Donnellon, an Academic Magnet High School student who moderated a town hall meeting on Saturday, April 14, 2018 at Burke High School in Charleston. The meeting is affiliated with the March For Our Lives, a student-led movement that started in the wake of the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida. Gregory Yee/Staff

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford pledged Saturday to introduce a federal measure to expand the time allotted for background checks on gun purchases from three to five days. 

The promise came during a two-hour town hall meeting at Burke High School where a group of students from Academic Magnet High School and other local residents grilled Sanford on gun policy in a town hall format.

Topics ranged from the banning of guns like the AR-15, to whether he'd continue to accept campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. 

Attitudes among lawmakers and others have changed in the wake of the  Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed.

Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, pointed to the passing of a law in Florida that raised the age for purchasing a gun from 18 years old to 21, and imposed a three-day waiting period in most purchases of long guns.  

He also noted that language in the recently passed federal spending bill opens the door for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin studying gun violence. Such studies were not possible since the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 spending bill provision, barred the CDC from undertaking such studies.

The 2018 bill, however, does not fund CDC gun violence research, a fact that several members of the audience during Saturday's town hall brought up.

As for Sanford's promise to advocate for expanding background check times from three to five days — the measure, when introduced, is aimed at closing the Charleston loophole, which allows licensed firearms dealers to sell to a buyer if three business days pass without a decision on a background check from the FBI, unless doing so is prohibited by local laws.

Will Donnellon, one of the students who organized the town hall, said he was encouraged by Sanford's pledge but was disappointed the congressman would not commit to not accepting any more NRA money.

"The biggest thing for us is, it can't end here," Donnellon said. "We can't stop. We can't let off. That's something that the Parkland students have preached a lot. As far as inspiration, we really get it from those kids."

Throughout the event, several audience members mentioned that they were disappointed in what they saw as Sanford's lack of leadership and said they planned to "vote him out," in November's election. 

Others accused him of being unwilling to compromise, a point which Sanford disagreed with.

"My starting point is as a believer and proponent of the Second Amendment," he said. "I'm not going to negotiate away the Second Amendment. ... That said, what the Supreme Court has said is the Second Amendment is indeed a constitutionally mandated right, but it's not an unlimited right."

Donnellon said he and his fellow students are looking into holding other events and hope to hold a town hall with Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, both South Carolina Republicans

They would also like to hold an event with candidates running for Sanford's congressional seat. The field includes Republicans Katie Arrington and Dimitri Cherny, and Democrats Joe Cunningham and Toby Smith.

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.