Who's to blame for political violence?

On Wednesday morning, a Trump-hating Bernie Sanders volunteer shot five people at a Republican practice for the annual congressional baseball game. One of them was the third-ranking House Republican, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. We could blame Democrats and Sanders supporters for this crime, if we wanted to imitate past liberal tactics. But the rush to score partisan points by using incidents of violence to discredit your political opponents is not only all too common but also cheap and dishonest.

The blame for violent acts lies with the people who commit them, and with those who explicitly and seriously call for violence. People who just use overheated political rhetoric, or who happen to share the gunman’s opinions, should be nowhere on the list.

In 1995, Bill Clinton famously used Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City to tar Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and turn the public against small-government Republicans. The 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led to an orgy of Republican-blaming, mostly based on the fact that Sarah Palin had released a map of 20 vulnerable Democratic districts with a set of crosshairs to mark each target. Never mind that the shooter had never seen the map and turned out to have no Republican connections and few conservative-sounding ideas. (Scalise’s shooter, by contrast, used his social media account to endorse and spread partisan arguments).