Hours after a gunman murdered nine people at a community college in Oregon, US president Barack Obama spoke—disheartened, exasperated—on his country’s inability to do anything about the epidemic of mass shootings. “Somehow this has become routine,” he said. “We’ve become numb to this.”
Well, at least one unlikely source is trying to change that.
People, the Time Inc.-owned weekly magazine best known for “The Sexiest Man Alive” and stories about whether or not Tom Cruise approves of his daughter’s new husband, has asked its 3.5 million readers to do something about gun violence.
In this week’s issue of the magazine, People editorial director Jess Cagle wrote a letter to readers asking them to take a stand, though it falls short of endorsing a specific position on gun control:
As President Obama said, our responses to these incidents–from politicians, from the media, from nearly everyone–have become “routine.” We all ask ourselves the same questions: How could it happen again? What are we doing about gun violence in America? There are no easy answers, of course. Some argue for stricter gun laws, others say we should focus on mental health issues, some point to a culture that celebrates violence.
The magazine then published the phone numbers, email addresses, and Twitter handles of all 535 members of US Congress, urging readers to contact them and let them know that the “routine” responses to these tragedies aren’t enough.
While this call to action, by itself, may not affect US gun policy, it’s not an inconsequential move. People is the eighth most circulated publication in the US by some measures, reaching 3.5 million paid subscribers and untold millions more online and in dentist offices. And, sometimes, pleas for political change can be more effective when they come from places not expected to be political.
A brief perusal of the comments section of Cagle’s letter reveals the response thus far is predictably divisive. Some readers are applauding People’s spunk and conviction. Others argue it’s just a publicity stunt. And at least one person is canceling her subscription: “I have had a subscription to People for many years but will be cancelling it since you have decided to use your magazine to push your leftist agenda!”
Cagle’s stance—while implied support for at least some measure of gun control—remained mostly ambivalent. Unfortunately, reactions like the one above are why many Americans feel so defeated on the issue. The gun obsession in the US—often derived from an apocryphal reading of the Second Amendment—has been an ineradicable part of American culture for a very long time.
“The minute you mention gun violence, there are a lot of people who think that means you want to take their guns away,” Cagle told NPR. ”I have been a little surprised at how angry even trying to have the discussion makes some people.”