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.
Boggs submitted the invoice to the governor’s office on Aug. 4.
Boggs said Justice did his homework in selecting top-of-the-line firearms from two premier firearms manufacturers to give away in the sweepstakes.
“He chose two particular firearms that are fantastic in terms of value, quality, craftsmanship, and collectability,” Boggs said, adding, “These are absolutely first-class firearms.”
He said the Benelli rifles in particular are currently in short supply, and said he was able to use contacts made through 47 years in the business to quickly obtain the 35 needed to fill the Justice order.
“Benelli firearms are almost impossible to come by right now, and that is the nicest model they sell,” Boggs said, suggesting it would have taken most dealers more than a year to fill an order for 35 rifles.
Boggs said he anticipates most of the winners will keep the firearms as family heirlooms.
“I’ll be very surprised if you see any one of them come on the open market for sale,” he said.
Boggs said he had no prior contact, business or otherwise, with Justice before getting the call for the firearms order.
“I’ve been to his Greenbrier [resort], but that’s pretty much it,” Boggs said.
Boggs said he was disappointed to learn that Justice is not giving away firearms in the second round of the vaccination incentive sweepstakes, saying he believes most young West Virginians would much rather win a firearm than, say, a season pass to a ski resort — one of the second-round prizes.
Justice has said the second-round prizes are geared to under-30 West Virginians, who currently have the lowest vaccination rates by age group.
“I appreciate the business, and I appreciate them calling me,” Boggs said of getting the contract to provide the 70 firearms as first-round prizes. “I know of no one else in the state that could have provided them with what they ordered.”
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.
“You could say, well, they’re not terribly successful,” Justice said of the sweepstakes’ failure to significantly increase state vaccination rates. “In all honesty, if we get an additional 500, 1,000, an additional 20,000, how many lives have we saved? How much money, how many hospitalizations? We’ve got to try anything and everything that’s available to us.”
During the first round of the sweepstakes, Justice flew around the state in the state airplane to personally award major prizes to winners.
Second-round prizes will be awarded on Thursdays, beginning this Thursday and ending on Oct. 7.