West Virginia Gave Away Custom Guns As Vaccine Incentive. Did It Work?

West Virginia Gave Away Custom Guns As Vaccine Incentive. Did It Work?
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Eight years ago, when my wife and I decided that we were ready to leave the D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia for someplace rural, we had no idea where we’d end up. For months we drove around the Shenandoah Valley, central Virginia, and even West Virginia looking for a place we could call home, and we fell in love with a small farm about three hours south of Washington, D.C.

I still love where I live, but honestly, there was a house outside of Romney, West Virginia that was a close second. I’ve been thinking more and more about that place over the past couple of years as Virginia’s trended blue, and stories like this one don’t help.

Chuck Boggs said Monday he got a call out of the blue from the governor’s office, asking if he could supply the state with 35 top-of-the-line customized rifles and 35 top-of-the-line customized shotguns for Gov. Jim Justice’s vaccination incentive sweepstakes.


However, Boggs said he wasn’t surprised he got the call, since he said he’s probably the only gun dealer in the state, and one of the few on the East Coast, that could handle an order of that size.


“There’s only a couple of dealers in the eastern U.S. they could have dealt with, no question about that,” said Boggs, who has operated Boggs Gun Shop in Charleston for 47 years.


According to the invoice obtained from the governor’s office through a Freedom of Information Act request, the governor’s office paid Boggs a total of $145,880 for the 70 firearms given away in the first round of the “Do It For Babydog” vaccination incentive sweepstakes.


That included $111,965 for 35 Benelli custom, engraved rifles, at $3,199 each, and $33,915 for 35 Henry custom, engraved shotguns at $969 each.

Babydog, in case your wondering, is Gov. Jim Justice’s 1-year old English bulldog. And while I can’t say that the name of the vaccination campaign is all that compelling, the potential prizes for those who get vaccinated might very well prompt some reluctant residents to get jabbed.
At the moment, only 39.5% of West Virginia residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 52.7% of the U.S. population. With COVID cases rising in the state, officials are growing increasingly concerned about the ability to care for those who become seriously ill from the coronavirus.

There were 640 patients hospitalized statewide due to COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon, with 203 patients in intensive care units, according to James Hoyer, who leads the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts.

On Friday, the state reported 579 COVID-19-related hospitalizations and 181 patients in ICU units.

The state is now quickly approaching its previous all-time record for COVID-19-related ICU hospitalizations, which was reported Jan. 6 when there were 219 patients statewide in ICU units.

Given those figures, you can understand why the governor is pushing vaccines as hard as he is. But is West Virginia’s gun giveaway for the vaccinated making a difference? At the moment, it appears the answer is “no.”

The trend is certainly heading in the right direction, but the real surge in vaccinations came back in the spring, and has largely remained flat over the past month. With the vaccination lottery expected to announce its first list of winners later this week, perhaps the press attention will lead to another spike in vaccinations, but that wasn’t the case during the state’s first round of free prizes for the vaccinated.

Justice used more than $10 million of unexpended federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds to pay for prizes in the first round of the sweepstakes, which featured weekly $1 million cash giveaways, and has said the second round of the sweepstakes will cost taxpayers an additional $6 million to $8 million.


Justice has said he is using state of emergency exemptions in state purchasing laws to award the no-bid contracts for the sweepstakes prizes.


The Gazette-Mail previously reported that the governor’s office paid more than $1 million to purchase 14 luxury pickup trucks given away as first-round prizes, purchased from auto dealers around the state, including several who contributed to Justice’s 2020 gubernatorial campaign.


Justice has defended holding the expensive vaccination incentive sweepstakes, even though state vaccination rates actually declined during the first sweepstakes, conducted from late June through early August.

And for the record, no guns are being offered as prizes in this latest sweepstakes. Instead, the 70 guns the state purchased from Boggs were given away during the initial vaccine lottery, though the gun store owner says he believes that the custom firearms were an excellent incentive earlier this year and he’s disappointed that firearms aren’t a part of the upcoming prize package.
I tend to agree, though the data certainly indicates otherwise. Based on the latest vaccination rates, it looks like many West Virginians are still holding out, regardless of what prizes are being dangled in front of them. If even a custom rifle isn’t enough to get residents to bare their arms, I don’t think that Justice is going to be able to incentivize his way to a vaccination rate over 50%.