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R.I. Representative Cicilline’s ‘Spare me the B.S.’ moment in gun debate sparks torrent of threats

Cicilline, a civil rights lawyer who taught constitutional law, rejected the criticism about his comments, saying that people also have the right to life and liberty

Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, speaks as the House Judiciary Committee holds an emergency meeting to advance a series of Democratic gun control measures, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, in response to mass shootings in Texas and New York, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 2, 2022.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE – U.S. Representative David Cicilline’s office has received multiple threatening, homophobic and racist voicemails after his comments during a gun debate went viral.

Cicilline, a Democrat of Providence, said his staff reported several of the most-severe threats to the Capitol Police. Receiving these sorts of messages is now a part of the job of serving in Congress, he said, although the volume and intensity has picked up amid a gun debate in which Cicilline was thrust front and center.

“It’s a sad commentary on where we are as a country, and where we are on this issue that people think it’s an appropriate way to talk to each other,” Cicilline told the Globe in an interview Friday evening.

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The vitriol was in response to Cicilline’s comments during an early June congressional hearing over gun legislation in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas. Cicilline was responding to an amendment offered by Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who said that red-flag gun laws would trample on due-process and Second Amendment rights.

“You know who didn’t have due process?” Cicilline asked at the hearing. “You know who didn’t have their constitutional right to life respected? The kids at Parkland, and Sandy (Hook), and Uvalde, and Buffalo, and the list goes on and on, so spare me the bulls**t about constitutional rights.”

The remark went viral on both the left side the political aisle, which celebrated it, and the right, which denounced it.

It also sparked a torrent of voicemails that were by turns racist, homophobic and threatening.

“Get your [expletive] together,” one person said, “or I’ll [expletive] kill you.”

“if you run your mouth even more, I might slap your teeth out of your baby diaper face… when you’re out at dinner, because we see you all the time when you’re out,” another said.

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“You don’t think we can find you in Pawtucket?” yet another said. “You’re going to get replaced.”

The voicemails, many of which were reviewed by the Globe, are also filled with slurs against Black people, gay people, and Italian people. They were so vile that Cicilline’s district director, Chris Bizzacco, ordered the staff not to review the transcripts of any messages for several days.

“We put in place protocols to protect the staff from these sorts of things,” Cicilline said.

Cicilline also faced an increase in threats as he served as a manager in the second impeachment trial against former president Donald Trump. His office has reported them and he’s had increased security.

Cicilline said the threats his office received recently were comparable to the ones he received around the impeachment trial.

The congressman has been in office for more than a decade. It was not like this when he first arrived in Washington. This change in the political fabric was sparked in part by a difficult few years of pandemic isolation and economic struggles, Cicilline said, and also by other politicians who vilify other elected officials and see the government as the enemy.

Not all of the criticism he received in the wake of the gun debate was vile or threatening: The conservative National Review, for instance, said Cicilline had said the quiet part out loud.

“Credit to Cicilline for being honest about his view, as a member of Congress, about the Constitution he took an oath to uphold and defend,” Dan McLaughlin wrote.

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Cicilline rejected the criticism about his comments: He wasn’t saying constitutional rights are B.S., he explained. He was a civil rights lawyer and taught constitutional law. His point was that the Second Amendment doesn’t preclude all limitations on guns, and that people also have the right to life and liberty, he said. Red-flag laws, he added, have constitutional and due process protections.

The state of Rhode Island has had a red-flag law on the books since 2018 that allows police to try to get an “extreme risk protection order” prohibiting people from having firearms if they’ve made threats or exhibited warning signs about committing violence.

The U.S. House on Wednesday passed the Protecting Our Kids Act, which would raise the age to legally buy semi-automatic rifles to 21 years old and ban bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, among other features. (Gaetz’s amendment disfavoring red-flag laws was not part of the final package.) The Protecting Our Kids Act is not expected to pass the U.S. Senate because of Republican opposition.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.