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Why Do Young People with Little Sense of the Value of Life Become Embroiled in Gun Crime

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Thursday 30th August 2007

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu comments on gun crime. Extracts published in The Daily Telegraph on 25 August 2007.

"The issue of young people, guns, knives and gangs was discussed widely in Birmingham, where I served as Bishop, in the aftermath of the murder of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare in the first hours of 2003. Much was said by the Government, council and statutory agencies about the need for "an improved strategic multi-agency response" to direct young people away from gun crime. Whilst it is true to say that legislation and enforcement alone will not solve gun crime, it is equally as true to say that whilst statutory agencies have their place, the primary responsibility must remain with parents.

Parents must shoulder the responsibility for where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing. The state cannot do this and nor should it be expected to. We cannot at the same time complain about a "nanny state" or a "big brother society" and then expect the state to raise our children. It is not the primary responsibility of teachers, social workers or probation officers to teach values, distinguish between right and wrong, or to provide a moral compass to our young people. Each of these groups can play their part in assisting or supporting parents but they cannot replace them.

There are shared values that can be both taught and learnt. Values are learnt in the home and then replicated in the street. If there is a vacuum of values at home, if parents absolve themselves of this responsibility, the values of the street will be replicated in the home and violence will come home to roost. The Church has a role to play in supporting parents and the family as a whole to nurture and value life, to glimpse the Divine in the other, and to know the transforming values and life that comes from a living relationship with Jesus Christ. These values are being played out through the work of groups like "Bringing Hope" in Birmingham and others who recognise the power of Church as community as an alternative to gang identity and the value of one-to-one peer mentoring.

What must be avoided are the politics of fear that take the truly tragic deaths of a number of young people and creates an all consuming moral panic which pressurises politicians to adopt short term tactics to reduce gun crime by increasing streetlights, promoting video surveillance, putting more police on the streets and ever longer sentences upon perpetrators. The other danger is that we succumb to the BSE mentality of Blame Someone Else. The cure to this malady is taking responsibility for our actions or non-action. As Edmund Burke wrote: "For evil to triumph it requires only that good people do nothing."

So we the people of the United Kingdom, and particularly parents, need to give our young people the reasons and values that lead them to turn away from the gun that is offered, from the knife that is held and from the gangs which seek them. It is only at this point that all the support which can be offered will make any difference. The responsibility is ours and working as a team each achieves more."

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