Deeds: Gun bill unrelated to son’s death

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds said Tuesday that the gun-control bill he proposed for this session was not related to the death of his son, who committed suicide with a firearm in November.

Deeds (D-Bath) said the bill is in line with his past efforts to close the gun show loophole, which allows private sellers to transfer firearms without conducting the criminal background checks required of licensed gun dealers.

The proposal had “nothing to do with my son’s situation,” Deeds said in a brief phone interview with The Washington Post.

Deeds, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009, has long been a supporter of gun rights. But he joined a push to close the loophole after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which left the shooter and 32 students, faculty and staff members dead.

His bill, SB 287, would not directly require private sellers to run background checks on buyers. But it would make it a felony to knowingly transfer a firearm to someone who is prohibited from possessing one.

The Post reported Monday that Deeds had filed the bill, noting that it was unclear whether it was in response to the death of his 24-year-old son, Austin “Gus” Deeds. The senator was traveling and not available for comment Monday. Authorities have not said how Austin Deeds obtained the gun that he used to kill himself.

The senator called the paper Tuesday to clarify that the bill was unrelated to his son’s death.

He declined to comment further on the tragedy, saying only, “I think I’ve said all I want to say.”

Two other bills that Deeds proposed for the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday do stem from the events that led to the death of his son. Austin Deeds stabbed his father and then fatally shot himself at their Bath County home one day after undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

A magistrate judge had issued an emergency custody order to allow mental health officials to evaluate Austin Deeds. But he was allowed to return home that night, mental health officials initially said, because no psychiatric bed could be found before the order expired. Officials from three area hospitals later said they had beds but were never contacted.

One of the senator’s bills would lengthen the period of time that authorities may hold a person under an emergency custody order, raising it from the current maximum of six hours to 24. The other calls for establishing a registry to provide real-time information on available psychiatric beds. The state has been working on developing such a registry for years. It is scheduled to be rolled out in March.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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