Police Believe Gun Store Owner Stopped School Shooting

The owner refused to sell a gun to a man who he thought looked disgruntled.

An Ohio sheriff said he believes the owner of a gun shop near Ohio University prevented a mass shooting when he refused to sell a former student a rifle.

John Downs was working at his Bait & Guns store March 21 when 25-year-old James Howard walked in and asked to buy a gun. Although Howard passed a background check, Downs turned him down, according to CBS News.

“I just said, ‘You know what bud, I have a really bad feeling about this, I just can’t sell you the gun,” Downs recalls.

Police say Howard had withdrawn from classes at Ohio University earlier that day and allegedly assaulted an assistant hockey coach. Downs’ store is about 50 miles from the university campus.

Howard left angrily after being denied the gun, but he returned around an hour later. Wreg.com reported that when Downs saw Howard again he locked the shop’s door, turned off the open sign and hid his customers in the back.

“We loaded three guns up, and hopefully he didn’t try to come through the door, thank you Lord,” Downs says.

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Police found Howard’s car at a nearby Walmart. Authorities discovered a gun in the backseat and found Howard about to purchase 50 rounds of 20-guage shot gun shell ammunition.

“From what I know of the circumstances, I believe [Downs] did prevent a mass shooting that was probably going to occur at OU in Athens,” Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North says.

A prosecutor says Howard possessed the firearm while allegedly being dependent or in danger of becoming drug dependent and that the firearm was purchased by falsifying background check forms. Howard has a history of mental health issues and is being held on $125,000 bond.

Ohio University police says they were planning a campus alert when they heard Howard had been arrested. The department has 30 sworn police officers, five communications officers and two clerical support staff members.

Although Downs says he’s not a hero, university students and parents have reached out to him expressing thanks for his quick thinking.

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