Last month, the Boston Herald said it would stop distributing the revered Maine shopper Uncle Henry’s around the Massachusetts capital because guns purchased from its pages had either been illegally trafficked, or linked to violence, in the city.

Maine and New Hampshire are a prime source for firearms, because private transactions in those states are largely unregulated, unlike Massachusetts. Removing Uncle Henry’s, then, would cut a connection between Bay State criminals and easy-to-acquire weaponry.

(Disclosure: the Sun Journal also accepts advertisements for firearms in its classified section.)

This might work, for awhile. But taking away Uncle Henry’s in Boston doesn’t alter its ubiquity in Maine and New Hampshire. Guns are still available. They’re still advertised. Anyone who wants one can get one; now it just requires a trip. (Which, for persons buying guns in Maine and New Hampshire before, was a trip they were making anyway.)

There is no guarantee, either, that Uncle Henry’s is gone forever. Its publisher is said to be looking for another distributor in Boston. So the victory for Boston-area officials and gun-control advocates, already hollow, might also be short-lived.

Uncle Henry’s is a convenient target. The real culprit, as has been identified before, are the laxer laws for tracking private gun sales in Maine and New Hampshire, which offer an attractive market to the wrong element. If prosecutors, police and advocates wish to staunch the flow of guns from the north, these laws must be toughened.

And if policymakers, law enforcement officials and citizens of Maine and New Hampshire wish to aid this effort to the south, they must take the politically bold stance to do so, instead of having career criminals remark about how profitable the north-south gun trade is. They have had this chance in the past, but legislation hasn’t progressed. 

The goal is laudable: ensuring guns purchased in Maine and New Hampshire don’t easily fall into the wrong hands. It would make the private sale of guns more bureaucratic, but also more traceable, which should provide a strong disincentive for illicit buyers.

In private gun sales, Massachusetts requires buyer and seller to complete a form filed with the state. Buyer and seller must also have a firearms license, which must be recorded at the time of sale. Being convicted of certain crimes prohibits a person from holding a license.

Traffickers and criminals in Massachusetts are reportedly using Maine and New Hampshire’s weaker laws to circumvent these requirements. Changing the law in Maine could prevent those who shouldn’t possess firearms from doing so, without violating the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms.

Equalizing laws on the merchandise is the route for trying to stem gun violence in Massachusetts, not pressuring Uncle Henry’s or its distributors. Firearm advertisements don’t harm people, after all. But the wrong person with a gun is a different story.

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