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Letter to the editor: Statistics for heartbreakers

A letter writer refutes my previous letter that lamented zero support from some Minnesota lawmakers for universal gun-purchase background check legislation by calling out, in his view, a lack of statistical relevance.

In a first-ever study comparing state gun laws, the Boston University School of Public Health report (Journal of General Internal Medicine-March 28, 2019) concluded significantly "lower homicide rates" in states having universal background checks.

Rejecting conclusions reached in this latest study, the letter writer references a previous opinion piece (March 27, 2018) from gun-rights advocacy organization CPRC that reviewed earlier Boston University/CDC data. By parroting CPRC misinterpretations, he redirects and softens hard data by averaging "pre-existing differences in homicide and suicide rates across states and ... (averaging) annual changes in ... deaths," using standard deviation to skew contrived data subsets.

As a career medical systems engineer in research and development, I respect relevance of numbers. I work with data, design new products by them, devise numerical design validation studies in clinical settings to facilitate positive patient outcomes that cause no harm, or mortalities. Verifiable numbers don't lie. Misinterpretations, however, can and do.

Considering all gun violence, including acts committed by undocumented, illegal purchasers, we must fathom how that affects parents, spouses, loved ones, who are crushed by dreadful outcomes.

Statistics defines one standard deviation, SD=1.0. In terms of assigning mathematical relevance to saving lives and causing no harm, when one's family is tragically, ironically, reduced by 1.0, that's a dreadfully accurate, heartbreaking conclusion.

Look into their eyes, the grieving, the forever heartbroken, and try to tell them that their loss is merely a statistical outcome. SD = Statistic: deceased. Tragically, that is relevance.

Steven Olson,

Rural Brainerd