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Political science professor weighs in on GOP baseball game shooting

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MISSOULA, Mont. - NBC Montana spoke to a political science professor at Montana State University in Bozeman following Wednesday morning's shooting at a GOP baseball game in Washington, D.C., to learn more how the country's current political climate may have played a factor in the shooting.

Dr. Eric K. Austin says hate crimes are on the rise.

Every day hundreds of social media users express that the country is more divided now than ever.

"When I was growing up people weren't shooting everything. It's happened in the last couple of years, and I think people think that is a healthy outlet," said Missoula resident Nate Williams.

"I think it has a lot to do with everything that's going on. All the chaos, all the fighting and everything," added resident Neil Albert.

Austin says, though today's political climate is the most heated in modern history, the divisiveness is all too familiar through the nation's past.

"If you look back to the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War things were pretty divisive in that moment in time," Austin said. "Even during the New Deal Era the politics between the two parties at the time was very divisive and, in fact, we have seen incidents of political violence both among party members and members of the public as well."

Austin says there is no real party to blame for today's extremism. He says studies reveal Democrats have become more liberal and Republicans have become more conservative in recent years.

"The climate and tenor of political discourse creates a setting where there is more politically and motivated violence, but pinpointing the causes of any one incident is pretty difficult to do," he said.

Austin says there no knowing what exactly motivates a shooter to take action. Austin says change to the political climate should come from the top.

"The willingness or unwillingness or reluctance to condemn these kind of acts sets up a climate where it's reasonable and acceptable," he said. "But what's increasingly clear is the ability to respond to these (incidents) is a shared responsibility. Political leaders, members of the community -- it's really important to continue having conversations and dialogue with one another."

The public agrees.

"Regardless of opinion or politics or whatever, violence is just going to bring us farther apart, not together as a country," added Missoula resident Alex Simmons.

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