The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, talked about the recent Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., discounting the argument put forward, including by many Christians in the United States, that "it's not guns that kill, it's people."
"People use guns. But in a sense guns use people, too. When we have the technology for violence easily to hand, our choices are skewed and we are more vulnerable to being manipulated into violent action," the leader of the world's 80 million-strong Anglican Communion said, delivering BBC Radio 4's "Thought for the Day" on Saturday.
Williams, who will step down from his role of archbishop of Canterbury at the end of this month and will be replaced by the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, said it was difficult to celebrate the "joyful season" while "we think of lives cut so brutally short and of the unimaginable loss and trauma suffered by parents."
A lone gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother in their home in Newtown, then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first-graders and six educators, and then shot himself to death on Dec. 14.
Control of the arms trade, whether for individuals or for nations, cannot in itself stop the impulse to violence and slaughter, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged. "The good news of Christmas is that the atmosphere of fear and hostility isn't the natural climate for human beings, and it can be changed."
However, he added, "if all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target," noting that nearly 6,000 children and teenagers were killed by firearms in the U.S. in just two years. On the contrary, he went on to say, "if all you have is the child's openness and willingness to be loved, everything looks like a promise."
The weapons trade must be controlled as the beginning of the solution to mindless killings, the archbishop said. "But what will really make the difference is dealing with fear and the pressure to release our anxiety and tension at the expense of others. A new heart, a new spirit, as the Bible says; so that peace on earth won't be an empty hope."
Williams said the U.K. must not be complacent about "the growing issues of gun and knife crime affecting young people in our own cities here." The question in the U.K., he said, "is how we push back against gang culture by giving young people the acceptance and respect they deserve, so that they don't look for it in destructive places."
Many Christians in the United States, mostly from mainline denominations, are also backing calls for gun control.
On Friday, faith leaders from different communities gathered for a press conference on the issue at the Washington National Cathedral where bell-ringing was held in remembrance of the Sandy Hook shooting. "There is hope because this tragedy will move us to action," said the Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of Churches. The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, prayed saying, "We will never forget them, oh God, and we pledge to honor their memories by doing what we all know to be right."
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was recently quoted by The New York Times as saying that the NAE had no official stance on gun control but might now "take a harder look."
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama released an official video on Friday in response to various petitions calling for his administration to address issues of gun control and mental health care – and signed by the required 25,000 signatures needed in order to be formally addressed by the White House. "I can't do it alone. I need your help," he said, and urged the petitioners to raise the issue and call their elected officials. "That's how change happens, because of committed Americans who make it happen. Because of you."