Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says that although it's the U.S. Navy's call whether to charge Lt. Cmdr. Tim White for using his own handgun to fire at a gunman who attacked two military sites in Chattanooga on July 16, the governor believes most Americans wouldn't "resent him for using his personal weapon."
White has not been charged for his action, according to the Navy, despite weekend rumors that charges were imminent.
Current Department of Defense regulations prohibit most service members from being armed on U.S. soil, including most personnel at reserve and recruiting centers like the ones targeted here.
"Obviously in a situation like that, ultimately it's the Navy's decision," Haslam said about White.
White confirmed to the Times Free Press on Thursday that he opened fire with a personal weapon on Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez as the 24-year-old Hixson man attacked the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway on July 16.
The attack brought national and state policies on who can go armed on federal and state military sites to the forefront of the national discussion, with many politicians calling for all military personnel to be armed. The gunman, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, killed four Marines and mortally wounded a Navy specialist in the attack.
Over the weekend, former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democratic presidential candidate and Marine veteran who served as Navy secretary, said on Twitter that he had confirmation from a "defense official" that the Navy was "seriously considering" charging White with illegally discharging a firearm on federal property.
"Navy charging LCDR Tim White w/ a crime for trying to defend our sailors & Marines in #Chattanooga?" he tweeted. "He deserves a medal, not an indictment."
The Navy denied that White had been charged in a statement on its official Facebook page Saturday, but the statement did not refute the claim that the Navy is planning to charge White.
"There is still a long way to go in reviewing the facts of this tragic incident, but at this time we can confirm no service member has been charged with an offense," the statement read.
Haslam also said he expects to have recommendations later this week on whether National Guard members should be allowed to carry personal firearms on Guard property in the aftermath of the attacks.
Tennessee Adj. Gen. Max Haston "is going to come back to me this week with a recommendation about what we will do for people who want to use their personal weapons on national property," Haslam told reporters after an education-related event in Mt. Juliet outside Nashville.
Haslam noted the state has no say-so on the carrying of personal weapons on federal military installations. Some National Guard facilities are located on U.S. military property or co-located with U.S. forces.
The governor ordered seven storefront Guard recruiting stations be relocated to armories after the July 16 attacks.
Meanwhile, public support for White is mounting. A petition started by a Florida man on July 29 calls for President Barack Obama to recognize White and any other service members who fired at the gunman for bravery. About 700 people had signed the petition a day after it was created, but by Monday that number had risen to more than 21,000.
Filed on the White House website, the petition must reach at least 100,000 signatures by Aug. 28 in order to receive a response from the White House.
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