Finding the balance between freedom and security is huge. So huge in fact we abandon it to government. We depend on them to define the many nuances and ancillary issues and find solutions to the problems. At present they are faced with two options. Should they cede more power to the now quasi-military police forces and the highly secretive intelligence agencies – admonishing them not to abuse it, hoping the famous dictum “power corrupts” doesn’t apply to our security services? Or should they simply accept that a few fanatics will get through and hope that we, the people, will view those instances as just a profoundly tragic circumstance? It is a no win situation for governments. They get blamed for both the loss of freedoms and the leakage when a mass murderer is successful - and politicians don't like being blamed for anything. As a result, their solution has generally been to give the responsibility to the "professionals". Unfortunately, the professionals - police and military organizations - are prone to accepting a narrow protective focus that flows from a "worst case scenario" and "better safe than sorry" foundation, where respect for human rights and freedoms is dispensable.

One possible option being suggested in other jurisdictions is for governments to request widely trusted members within each community to undergo training in the use of firearms – with the plan being for them to carry those firearms whenever they attend public gatherings. Voluntary and unpaid of course, founded on community support and selection, and subject to a high standard of mature and ethical conduct. For instance, select teachers in some schools in the United States are being asked to undergo training and carry concealed weapons while on the job. It certainly puts more defenders out there, although, if it becomes widespread I would expect a great deal of backlash from the police establishment. This could be seen as an infringement on their territory and, perhaps, even a threat at times. If a peace officer were to pull their pistol and shoot someone who apparently poses no danger to society - who knows how a trusted volunteer would react.

When I discuss this trade-off, between freedom and security, people often suggest they wouldn’t mind paying extra for security, if it was guaranteed to produce results. Certainly some measure of extra security would likely be likely with any large increase in spending. The question then centres on value. How much security can we gain for each additional dollar? Money spent by government carries with it an opportunity cost. To spend it on security means that same dollar can’t be spent on health care or infrastructure improvements. Take for example the late, sometimes lamented, “long gun registry” here in Canada. Two billion dollars of federal tax money spent and, if the firearm organizations are to be believed, not one concrete example of a life saved. Their suggestion being that this same amount of money could have placed an extra MRI in every major hospital in the country and staffed it full time. Imagine how many lives that would have helped. I, for one, have waited months for an MRI and, believe me, there is palpable terror involved in that process as well.

No matter how you slice it, protecting society from mass murderers is not only expensive it requires personal sacrifices. One sacrifice is, of course, individual freedoms. Living in a closely monitored world where cameras are everywhere and all calls, emails, texts – and even conversations held in public places – are screened for signs of aberrant behaviour is what it will take. It's a place where a word spoken in anger or as a joke may land you in jail. Government’s now “sort of” have the ability to arrest and hold people purely on the possibility of them being dangerous, with no requirement to share what information is used to justify their actions, (thus providing no way to defend yourself). This is happening, we must remember, in a world where violent, irrational, fanatics have the ability to express their passion, commitment, and hatred using the latest in destructive technologies. To prevent dying at the hands of these fanatics we may need to accept the loss of privacy, dignity, openness, and free expression, and the occasional imprisonment of innocent individuals. So say the people who trust authority.

The choice we face ends up being between putting our faith in huge, secretive, tightly controlled bureaucracies - or in finding ways to trust and rely on each other. Do we cave in to the paranoia that allows us to see children as terrorists; do we acknowledge that personal privacy is an outdated concept; do we accept that anyone can be forced to lie spread eagle on the ground while being searched and questioned with a gun in their face, simply because a peace officer thought they looked suspicious; or do we seek out more ways to trust other people and share the burden of protection among ourselves - understanding that, tragically, a deranged individual will occasionally get through. Believe it or not, it is our choice. It just isn't an easy one.