Keep unstable people from buying guns.
Not just ones who might be mentally ill.
Ones we know are.
The ones a judge has ruled are a danger to themselves or others.
But the tragedy at Virginia Tech made it clear there are still pitfalls with background checks.
So yesterday, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, with the advice of Attorney General Bob McDonnell, issued an executive order that should close one loophole related to outpatient treatment.
Others remain, however.
The irony is that everyone wants to keep guns away from the unstable.
The feds require states to report data to be checked by gun dealers before making sales -- yet only 22 states do. Virginia is the best at reporting mental-health information to the database, state officials say. Yet reporting decisions often end up being made not by judges but by clerks.
It was that inconsistency that Kaine and McDonnell went after.
At a news conference yesterday, the two announced Kaine's executive order directing state police and state mental-health officials to report anyone ordered into not only inpatient treatment but also outpatient treatment.
That's how the Virginia Tech killer and apparently others have avoided being reported.
Blame falls to the interpretation of a 2005 state law that requires reporting someone involuntarily "admitted to a facility." That might seem to mean admission to a hospital or other facility.
Kaine and McDonnell agreed the wording has been interpreted that way. But they chose the "expansive" definition that is elsewhere in the state law: "admitted to a facility" means outpatient treatment as well.
The key, they said, is not the location. The key is the finding that someone is dangerous.
Still, Executive Order No. 50 doesn't end the problem.
After the news conference, McDonnell agreed the order could be challenged by an outpatient treatment recipient later denied the right to buy a gun.
McDonnell said the General Assembly will be asked to change the law to unequivocally require that outpatient treatment be reported.
A spokesman for the attorney general likened it to a 2005 order from then-Gov. Mark R. Warner restricting the sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications sometimes used to make methamphetamines. The next year, the assembly made those into law.
But there are still more loopholes.
For instance, neither the law nor Kaine's order affects someone voluntarily committed for treatment. Kaine said yesterday that he's not able to rewrite state law.
Moreover, the background checks still affect only sales made by gun dealers.
They do not affect sales between individuals or at gun shows -- the so-called gun-show loophole.
McDonnell, a Republican considered likely to run for governor in 2009, was asked afterward about that tricky issue. He said, "I haven't formed a position on that loophole, as it's called."
There are still a lot of issues on the table.
One day, we may find the mentally incompetent have been fully barred from legally possessing guns.
That day is still too far away.