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Commentary: Unintended consequences wrought by the NRA

Greyston Garcia pretty much owed his freedom to the political might of the National Rifle Association. And maybe his death.

In March, in one of the more perverse applications of the infamous Stand Your Ground law that the NRA pushed through the Florida Legislature in 2005, a Miami-Dade circuit judge granted Garcia immunity from prosecution.

The ruling kept Garcia from going to jail on a second-degree murder charge. He might have been safer behind bars: The 26-year-old Miami man was gunned down Tuesday night, collateral damage in yet another Liberty City gang shoot out.

Back on Jan. 25, 2011, Garcia, brandishing a large knife, chased a fleeing car burglar down a Miami street and stabbed him to death. Garcia claimed Pedro Roteta had attempted to fend him off with a bag containing three stolen radios. Under Stand Your Ground, that was apparently enough.

Judge Beth Bloom wrote that she had “considered the fact that the defendant never called the police or 911 following the incident, and that he returned home and went back to sleep.” She knew that Garcia had initially lied to police about his involvement in the killing. She acknowledged that after the stabbing, Garcia had hidden the knife. And that he had later sold two of the car radios he found in the bag taken from the man bleeding to the death on the sidewalk.

Prosecutors had argued that Garcia, as he chased down Roteta, obviously wasn’t experiencing “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm,” the traditional grounds for a self-defense claim.

Yet the broad sweep of the 2005 law still protected Garcia. Judge Bloom ruled that under Stand Your Ground — the same law that has caused so much consternation in the Trayvon Martin shooting — Garcia had no particular obligation to stop his pursuit. Garcia, thanks to the NRA’s pet legislation, was set free. Free to return to life in a gang-infested, violence-stricken, gun-laden community.

The NRA pressured Congress in 2004 not to renew the federal ban on the sale of 19 types of military style semi-automatic assault weapons, conjuring up a fanciful notion of suburban homeowners in desperate need of heavy weaponry to fight off home invaders. The reality, though, has been so many deaths in poor urban neighborhoods, where variations of the AK-47 have become the weapon of choice among gangbangers. In Miami, kids as young as 13 have been busted with assault weapons. As teenagers spray gunfire in the streets, the bodies of random, innocent, hapless bystanders pile up as fast as the intended victims. Meanwhile, gangbangers arrested in these shootings have profited as much as anyone from the loose interpretation of Stand Your Ground.

Garcia now symbolizes both barrels of the unintended consequences wrought by the NRA. He was driving along Northwest 15th Avenue to his job at a Liberty City convenience store about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when he happened into crossfire from a gang shootout. The Herald’s David Ovalle reported that a stray bullet entered the passenger side window and killed Garcia. An unidentified 16-year-old boy, perhaps an actual target in the firefight, was also killed.

Less than four hours later, yet another unintended victim of a drive-by shooting, 29-year-old Angelese Ladson, who was eight months pregnant, was killed when a stray bullet struck her in the throat as she stood on the porch of a Miami Gardens home. Angela Scott Ragin, the victim’s grandmother, told Herald news partner CBS4: “This was so unnecessary. I don’t like guns period. There is just too much violence with too many guns.”

The city of Miami reported about 70 drive-by shootings last year, most of them in Liberty City, with the innocent, even small children, as likely to suffer gunshot wounds as rival gang members. In November, Terry Brown, 42, a father of five, was killed by an errant shot as he sat in his wheelchair. Brown had been paralyzed when he was hit by a bullet from a nearby drive-by shooting just four months earlier.

In some other neighborhood, the deaths of Terry Brown and Greyston Garcia might have seemed both wildly improbable and wildly ironic. Not in Liberty City. Around there, fanciful theories about gun rights and self defense have real and ghastly consequences.