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(Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
(Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Tabatha Southey

Sarah Palin's hurt feelings aren't the injury I'm worried about Add to ...

When I was young, my dad told me not to play on the golf course in the summer. (We tobogganed there in the winter.)

"When I was growing up," he said, "I knew a boy who got hit by a golf ball, and the ball went through his head."

And that worked like a charm: I never went rambling around the edges of the golf course in the summer again. I even warned my friends away from doing it.

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I'd tell my friends about my dad's friend and the golf ball that went through his head and out the other side, and they would invariably gasp and ask, "Did he live?"

I'd say, "No, he didn't live! He had a golf-ball-sized hole through his head! So whatever you do" - and later I passed this earnest instruction on to my own kids - "never play on a golf course."

I brought this story up with my dad recently, and he said, "That never happened. Not sure why I told you that. A boy with a golf ball through his head! That's nonsense."

That revelation, coupled with the coverage of the Gabrielle Giffords story, is making me wonder if my entire "don't put stuff through your head" childhood was one big lie.

It took a few days after the horrific shootings in Tucson for nearly every neurosurgeon in the United States to be asked by at least one member of the media to explain how it is that a bullet can pass through a brain and leave the victim, mercifully, alive.

Most of them said that as they had not treated the victim in question, Congresswoman Giffords, they couldn't comment on the specifics of her case. But one part of their response was virtually universal: They all pretty much said, "Oh, a bullet through the brain - I see that type of injury all the time."

Apparently it's no big deal, things going through the head. And that must be why the bullet through the head got minimized during the news week - dwarfed by the injured feelings of the tough-talking, yet emotionally fragile right.

When the shooting first occurred, there was outrage. Outrage and pain. And there were questions and accusations about the angry, vengeful tone of recent political debate.

I think these were fair.

Ms. Giffords had been marked with a gun sight on Sarah Palin's targeted-district list. She had endured threats and she expressed concern about her safety. Then she was shot.

Investigating a possible link wasn't wild. It would have been silly not to follow that thread.

Even once it became obvious that Jared Lee Loughner, the accused gunman, is a deeply disturbed man (his history and behaviour suggest schizophrenia), the possibility that some link existed deserved to be explored.

I don't recall anyone saying, "I'm worried this rhetoric might inspire a perfectly sane person, with a coherent political theory, toward violence."

Yet the initial outrage over the event was lost in the ensuing outrage over the outrage. By midweek, the bullet through the head, the deaths and the injuries almost disappeared.

The extraordinary violence of the act nearly vanished as the media apologized for asking obvious, relevant questions.

And, en masse, they seemed to swear off asking other relevant questions: Why are there so many bullet wounds to the heads and bodies of Americans? Why is this normal? Why are there so many guns?

Instead, there was tiresome reporting on Ms. Palin's self-important, not even fleetingly self-reflective response to the shootings.

And there was idle speculation about the killer's family. They were too private, neighbours say. They built a wall in front of their patio. They didn't spend much time with other neighbours.

Well, time may tell. Mental illness can certainly isolate a family, but I'd barricade a bit too if I lived in Arizona. They're heavily armed, and their response to this incident has been to become way more heavily armed. (Sales of Glock handguns, the very weapon Mr. Loughner used, jumped 60 per cent after the shooting.)

I sympathize with their sadness, certainly. But I think if I lived in Arizona, my patio would be underground.

Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

 

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