Advanced search Click here for the website of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

Skip Content

Guns, knives and gang culture

The Archbishop of York commented on why young people become embroiled in gun crime and society's response to this...

The issues of young people, guns, knives and gang culture

The Archbishop has commented on many occasions about the issues surrounding young people, guns, knives and gang culture. Dr Sentamu also worked on inquiries into the 1993 racist killing of Stephen Lawrence and the stabbing in 2000 of the Nigerian schoolboy Damilola Taylor.
When the Criminal Justice Bill proposed longer prison sentences, Dr. Sentamu responded vehemently to the politicians, believing that increasing the severity of sentences would not put an end to the shootings and gang culture. Legislation and enforcement alone, will not solve gun crime. The Archbishop's stance is that whilst statuatory agencies have their place, the primary responsibility must be with the children's parents.

During 2007 there have been scores of shootings and lost lives including James Andre Smartt-Ford,16, at an ice disco in Streetham; Michael Dosunmu in his bed at Peckham; Billy Cox, Annaka Pinto, Jonathan Matondo, Abukar Mahamud, Nathan Foster, and Rhys Jones. Others have lost their lives to the knife: Ben Hitchcock, Rizwan Darbar, Andrew Holland, Martin Dinnegan, Shane Jackson, Samantha Madgin, Sian Simpson...The list goes on. None of the above children saw their 19th birthday.

A few years ago and in the aftermath of the murders of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare much was said by the government about the need for "an improved strategic multi-agency response" to direct young people away from gun crime.

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.

Bringing Hope

Bringing Hope Bringing Hope is a charity that works with churches to address issues related to a lifestyle of guns, drugs, knives and gangs. Their aim is to see churches transform these lives, build community cohesion and restore family ties by working in partnership with each other and various networks from the private, statutory and voluntary sectors.

The Damascus Road Experience

Nearly every month during 2007 reports of fatal incidences of knife violence  - particularly among the under 16s - has been a major cause for concern for society.

In March the Home Secretary convened a meeting with community activists in an effort to find a solution to the knife crime trend that has shaken London and though unreported, is often a daily occurrence for many young people and adults across the UK.

Bringing Hope was invited to attend and following the meeting submitted a paper in response to the action plan to address the issues drawn up by the Home Office.

The report, entitled "the Damascus Road Principles", describes the transformation experience of people classed as "disaffected", "hard to reach" and hopeless with violent and drug induced mindsets through the example of the Apostle Paul after his encounter on the Damascus Road.

The government, church leaders and others who want to help the above are challenged to consider developing strategies to bring out the potential in people by looking beyond the traditional, reactive, punitive and retributive policies. Some suggested methods include training peer mentors, schemes such as social entrepreneurship to offer alternatives to destructive lifestyles and through an approach that puts public and social health alongside or even before crime control and community safety agendas.

These approaches have proven to be effective and workers with Bringing Hope and other grassroots agencies are living examples of transformation through the aforementioned strategies.

The report can be read here. It has been widely distributed to Church leaders and their networks across the country and to Christian MPs with an aim to explore and openly debate the Christian approach to the social concerns around issues such as guns, drugs, knives and gangs.