FAIRBANKS - Handgun sales in Alaska are so profitable that while corporate headquarters of three major chains have either banned the sales of handguns or ammunition for them on a national basis, they've allowed their Alaska stores to sell them.
Kmart is the latest chain that has announced it will phase out handgun ammunition sales in its stores nationwide. But sales will continue as usual at the Fairbanks and Juneau stores, which sell both handguns and ammunition.
Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart do the same, all exceptions to corporate orders.
"It's that Last Frontier persona," Kmart's sporting goods manager Bryan Staege said. "Alaskans love their handguns."
A week ago, Kmart officials announced the store would withdraw handgun ammunition from its shelves within the next three months. The decision came after a meeting with Michael Moore, a nationally known filmmaker and gun control advocate, and three victims of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. The group asked Kmart to remove ammunition from store shelves.
Nationally, Kmart stores have not sold handguns for some time.
Susan Dennis, a Kmart spokeswoman, said the Juneau store will carry handguns and ammunition.
"There's a high percentage of people that carry them for protection and safety," Dennis said. "As we do carry handguns in the state, we are continuing to carry the ammunition."
The Fairbanks Kmart store stopped selling handguns several years ago, but got corporate approval to start selling handguns again last year, Staege said.
The store now plans to add more varieties of the easy-to-carry guns and will continue to carry accessories, including ammunition, to outfit them, Staege said.
Nationally, it's a matter of economics, said Kmart store director Dave Deates.
"We're making money in Alaska," he said.
Out of the company's $5 million worth of ammo sales, only $500,000 of it was profitable, he said, and all of it came out of Alaska.
Handguns and ammo are sold at all eight Fred Meyer stores in Alaska, including the two in Fairbanks, said Don Bennett, a Fred Meyer manager.
"We cater to our market," Bennett said. His most popular sellers are .22- and .45-caliber handguns. The Alaska stores are the only stores that sell both, as well as rifles, he said.
Wal-Mart also sells handguns and ammo in Alaska. Nationally, Wal-Mart has banned handgun sales but still carries ammunition and rifles.
Alaskans like to use smaller weaponry for everything from target practice to personal protection, Bennett said.
Joe Nava, owner of Firearms Instruction Services, said it's the small nature of a handgun that makes them ideal for the Alaska outdoors.
"You can always carry it," Nava said. "It's hard to carry a shotgun when you're fly fishing."