- The Washington Times
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Local law enforcement are crediting a gun shop owner in Hocking County, Ohio, for possibly preventing a mass shooting at a nearby university when he refused to sell a gun to a suspicious man.

John Downs, who has owned Downs Bait and Guns for 28 years, told a local Fox affiliate that he was working in his store on March 21 when a man came in wanting to buy a long gun.

Mr. Downs said the man, James Howard, 25, did pass a background check, but had asked some questions and made comments that worried him.

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Mr. Downs said Mr. Howard had indicated that he may want to harm himself or others and he decided not to sell the weapon to him.

“There was a red flag for me, I am like, I won’t allow that I don’t want that to be on me,” Mr. Downs told Fox.

He said Mr. Howard then became angry and made threats before he left the store.

“He started cussing me and this and that, before he left he said you don’t know who I am. I just said, you know what bud, I have a really bad feeling about this, I just can’t sell you the gun,” Mr. Downs told Fox.

Deputies from the Sheriff’s department said Mr. Howard, a former Ohio University student and hockey player, returned to the store later, prompting Mr. Downs to call 911.

“I had some customers in here, put them all in a back room and I locked the door, turned the light out and shut my open sign off,” Mr. Downs said.

Mr. Howard was later arrested at a nearby Wal-Mart where he was buying “survival gear and an enormous amount of ammunition,” Sheriff Lanny North told Fox.

Sheriff North said Mr. Howard had something sinister in mind and was planning “something that was going to take a lot of lives.”

He believed Mr. Howard was frustrated about something that happened at Ohio University in Athens.

A local NBC affiliate later reported that Mr. Howard had allegedly assaulted a university staff member at Bird Arena.

Police said Mr. Howard entered a staff member’s office at the arena about noon, shoved the staff member, and “attempted to strike him with a closed fist.”

Sheriff North said Mr. Downs could have prevented a deadly shooting attack.

“I believe he did prevent a mass shooting that was probably going to occur at Ohio University in Athens,” Sheriff North told Fox.

Mr. Howard was was being held at the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail on weapons and burglary charges.

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