PEOPLE editorial director Jess Cagle was honored with the Brady Center’s annual “Bear Award” for his commitment to gun violence prevention advocacy Tuesday night.
The Brady Center is a nonprofit organization aimed at dramatically reducing gun related deaths and injuries in America. Best known for working to pass the Brady Law in 1993, which mandated federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States, and for its 2001 merger with the Million Mom March, the Brady Center hopes to cut American gun deaths in half by 2025. Currently, the organization is working to close loopholes by extending background checks to gun shows and internet sales.
Last year, Cagle and PEOPLE published a “Call to Action,” urging readers to reach out to their representatives in Washington, D.C. to find out what they’re doing about the gun-violence epidemic. After the mass shooting in Orlando this year, PEOPLE profiled all 49 victims and once again published phone numbers and contact information of all 535 voting members of the U.S. House and Senate online and in the magazine.
The Brady Center “Bear Awards” are named for Jim “Bear” Brady, who died last August. Brady had sustained a gunshot wound to the head during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Both the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are named for him and his wife Sarah, according to the center’s website. The award ceremony, held in New York City on Tuesday, featured celebrity appearances by Katie Couric (pictured above), Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra (pictured below) and many more. Couric was also honored for her gun violence prevention film, Under the Gun.
“Jess Cagle is extraordinarily deserving of this honor,” Brady Center president Dan Gross, who presented Cagle with the Bear Award on Tuesday, tells PEOPLE. “We need to make this a defining issue in popular culture and show that there are voices coming from all corners of society. Nobody embodies that more than Jess Cagle and the work that People Magazine has done.”
RELATED: PEOPLE’S Call to Action: Here’s How to Contact All 535 Members of Congress
Gross adds, “It really defines this issue’s transcendence from being an advocacy issue to being a social issue. When you wind up on the cover of People Magazine, that really by definition means it’s no longer a partisan or political issue. It’s finally become something bigger than that.”
Gross says the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College was a “tipping point” in terms of cultural awareness. “And it really was the work of People Magazine and the influence of Jess Cagle that initially was our greatest proof point,” he explains.
“Since then, the issue has really changed over the last year. You’re seeing celebrities tweet about it, there were 150,000 calls put in to Congress in 24 hours, we’re finally starting to see the American public in the hundreds of thousands and millions making their voices heard on this issue,” Gross adds. “In a lot of ways that can be traced back to what Jess and PEOPLE did, and that’s what makes him an extraordinarily deserving honoree.”