Mat-Su Borough approves grant to offer weapons training for residents

PALMER — Mat-Su residents will have access to free or low-cost weapons training under a new borough grant program targeted at compensating for limited local law enforcement.

Officials estimate that the $75,000 grant could pay for private firearms safety training for up to 300 residents over the next year.

The grant was approved in a 5-2 vote by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly last week as part of the larger approval process for the borough’s $455 million budget for 2025.

The program is designed to give residents the skills to respond to threats when trained law enforcement officers are not nearby, said Assembly member Ron Bernier, who sponsored the legislation.

Bernier said the program was inspired by the deaths of two women found near Trapper Creek in 2023, he said. Federal prosecutors say those deaths were linked to a drug trafficking ring.

“I told the community of Trapper Creek, ‘You guys need to band together to be some type of militia. You guys are the first line of defense,’ and this is part of my answer for that,” Bernier said during a special assembly meeting Thursday.

The Alaska State Troopers are responsible for law enforcement across most of Mat-Su, an area the size of West Virginia. About 30% of trooper patrol positions for the region are currently vacant, state Department of Public Safety officials said Tuesday.


Asked about the new grant program in Mat-Su, public safety spokesman Austin McDaniel said in a statement that the agency “supports firearms safety efforts across the State of Alaska. Many local governments and the state help fund firearms safety classes and hunter education so that Alaskans can safely use firearms which is a welcomed endeavor.”

He encouraged “all qualified Mat-Su Borough residents that would like to directly impact the safety of their community and neighborhoods” to apply for open trooper positions.

A related resolution urging Mat-Su residents to own guns and ammunition passed the Assembly unanimously earlier this year.

The two Assembly members who voted no on the grant funding — Stephanie Nowers and Tim Hale — said that they opposed the program because it increases borough spending. Nowers’ district includes Palmer and Hale’s includes Butte.

The weapons program won’t open the borough to gun violence or injury-related lawsuits because the training will be provided through a private company, borough attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos said. The company will be selected through a bidding process, borough officials said.

Details on how residents can access the training or the final cost per resident for the program will be presented to the Assembly at a later date, borough officials said during the meeting.

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Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.