Flags at Half-Staff After Chattanooga Shooting

Published Jul 19, 2015

NEWS:   Some Americans were puzzled or dismayed by the White House’s not lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff after the Chattanooga shootings.

On 16 July 2015, a gunman opened fire at a military recruiting center and the Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four U.S. Marines who died that day and a U.S. Navy petty officer who expired from his wounds a few days later.

In the wake of the Chattanooga tragedy, the governors of several states directed their state flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims of those shootings, such as Tennessee (where the attack occurred), Massachusetts (where one of the killed Marines hailed from), and Arkansas (where another of the killed Marines hailed from).

A number of commenters noted with puzzlement or dismay that President Obama did not direct that the U.S. flag similarly be lowered to half-staff at the White House and other public buildings in memorial of the slain U.S. servicemen:

There are numerous reports on the Internet that the White House did not lower the flags to half staff following the shooting of 4 marines (and now a 5th serviceman who is navy) in Chattanooga Tennessee (July 2015).

There were orders by the President for flags to be flown at half-staff following the shootings at Fort Hood, the Aurora Century Theater, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. Why the difference?

Indeed, the White House web site does not record President Obama's having issued any proclamation to that effect, nor do flag notification sites. And it is true that President Obama issued proclamations ordering the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff following similar events such as the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, and the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013.

Some have speculated that the lack of a presidential proclamation might be because as tragic and senseless as they were, the Chattanooga deaths involved members of the U.S. armed forces who are considered to have been killed in the line of duty (unlike the other mass shooting events referenced above, which involved civilian deaths), and while individual states often lower their flags to honor local natives or residents who die in the service of their country, doing so at a national level would require the President to pick and choose among service deaths to decide which to so honor.

Others noted that that speculation seemingly ran counter to the fact that President Obama did issue a proclamation directing the lowering of U.S. flags after the November 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that left thirteen people dead and another thirty-two wounded (both military and civilian, although predominantly the former). In the Fort Hood case, however, the shooter was himself a member of the U.S. Army, and the attack was classified as an act of workplace violence.

A meme from previous years that was widely recirculated after the Chattanooga shootings falsely claimed that President Obama had ordered flags to be flown at half-staff following the 2012 death of singer Whitney Houston. That actions was actually a decision made at the state level by New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

On 21 July 2015, President Obama finally issued a proclamation directing U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor the Chattanooga shooting victims.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as back in 1994.