The number of innocent people being gunned down, blown up, run over, stabbed, and otherwise maimed by fanatics in recent times is surely a sign that the status quo has ceased to be an option. Granted, statistically you have a far greater chance of being hit by lightning than being killed by a religious terrorist or nutcase mass murderer, but the fear is real and living with fear diminishes our lives.

How fanatics kill is what truly disturbs us. The randomness of their attacks mean you can be doing everything right, making good decisions, living a respectful and caring life, and still end up dead on the street. Indeed, victims appear to be picked purely on the basis of access and vulnerability. Theatres, schools, colleges, street crowds, conference delegates, workers in an enclosed space, they choose wherever a large number of unarmed people gather. And the killers don't plan on surviving so there is no consequence inhibiting them, no mortal fear, only fear of failure. This level of detachment shakes our view of the world.

So how can we defend against these outrages? Western governments are spending literally trillions of dollars on this effort and, at present, are quick to claim a winning record. As already mentioned, the attacks are rare considering both the openness of our societies and the resources fanatics have at their disposal. Yet, the notion that it could be a lot worse is not satisfying. It simply means we are at risk for an even more frightening existence.

People need to experience a reasonable level of security for their individual mental health, but what can we do to achieve it? One way, we are told, is to not trust anybody. If you see something suspicious call the police – gun possession, particularly, is an indication of possible disasters in the offing. And the police respond. We have seen all manner of individuals taken down by swat teams for such things as being observed with paint ball guns or pellet guns or legal sporting or target rifles. The police have even shot children playing with toy guns. There are millions of guns in circulation and the vast majority are legal - owned by people who have no desire to kill anyone – but we don’t know them personally so they remain a threat.

In addition, bombs may be constructed from materials purchased at the local hardware or grocery store and, supposedly, are so easy to build a child could manage it. Witness the fact that a fourteen-year-old student was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, to show off to his teachers. To his dismay adult members of the educational establishment mistook it for a bomb. The child was subsequently taken into police custody where he was fingerprinted, interrogated (without being allowed to call his parents), and charged with inciting a bomb hoax – until an expert looked at the “bomb” and decided it was, indeed, just a clock.

And we must not ignore the threat of chemical warfare from that same quadrant of our population. A grade three student, even more recently, was removed from a school bus by police, arrested, placed in the back of a police cruiser, and taken to the local station because it was reported, by another child, that she had “chemicals” in her backpack. A thorough search of her pack while on the bus found no sign of chemicals but it didn’t halt her arrest and subsequent interrogation. Did they believe she had secreted the chemicals on her person? The article reporting this story made no attempt to imply what chemicals she was believed to be carrying, although, they must have thought it to be something significantly harmful (anthrax, crystal meth??). Again, nothing was found.

It appears people in authority are becoming afraid to make judgment calls because, in the event they are wrong – however small that possibility – they will be blamed. It is simply more prudent to follow a mindless protocol. As a result, children, even elementary school children, are being arrested and traumatized as possible mass murderers.

How far will this take us? Will major fashion houses be coming out with a line of Kevlar evening wear, are puppy mills in the process of churning out personal sniffer dogs that can identify bombs and chemical warfare agents while fetching a stick in the park?

Such is the extent of our paranoia that many citizens are demanding an increase in police powers – a dangerous proposition given the reported abuses we have witnessed in the news lately. Undoubtedly, more police would provide a greater protective presence at social gatherings. The cost of this increased protection would be enormous of course, and mostly wasted. Police can’t be everywhere and mass killers would, with very little effort, be able to determine which groups were vulnerable and which are well defended. Police protective equipment is relatively easy to spot.

A popular saying in many urban areas relates that “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away,” and that is, by and large, true. Regardless of the almost immediate reporting methods provided by our ubiquitous mobile communication devices, and the efficiency of emergency contact services, police can’t be instantly transported to situations where innocent lives are being taken. The reality remains, in an attack by a mass killer or killers, initially, everyone is on their own.

The American answer to this problem, at least in some states, is to allow citizens to be armed. This solution has its good and bad points. Yes, it would be nice if, when a deranged killer pulls out a gun and begins shooting, they are immediately engaged by a bevy of armed defenders. And, No, I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Jane) who wishes to carry a concealed firearm to have that opportunity. Far too many of them are capable of being clumsy or negligent or trigger happy, or even criminal under certain circumstances. Just look at those in our society who already have the right to carry pistols. Every year we hear of stories of peace officers gunning down individuals who present little or no immediate threat to anyone, even themselves – and peace officers pass through a rigorous selection process and undergo intense training to prevent such actions. How could we trust individuals who select and train themselves?

We, in modern democratic societies, are vulnerable, and not only do we accept it we demand it. We want our freedoms, we want our privacy, and we are constantly on the lookout for attempts, within our institutions, to limit either. At the same time, we demand security. We wish to live our lives with as few restrictions and anxieties as possible. The arguments we are now facing surround the question, “Where will the compromise be?” Where is the compromise between freedom and security?