I-Team: Guns Used in More Than Half of Suicides

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. To examine these volatile issues, earlier this year, the I-Team launched an ongoing project called Guns of Nevada. At the center of each gun massacre is a story of the holes in the mental health system. Nevada ranks near the bottom when it comes to mental health services. You will find extensive information in The Mental Health Debate.

LAS VEGAS -- Nevada has long had one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and more than half of those deaths involved a gun.

It's a grim statistic suicide prevention experts said they believe the state must address to save lives.

In Clark County, roughly 10 percent of suicides are committed by out-of-state residents. The myth that tourists account for the bulk of the county's suicides is just that. Instead, those who take their own lives are our family, our friends and our neighbors. And often they take their lives with a gun.

Clark County Deaths by Firearm

Krista Block said she knew something was wrong in 2001 when her long-time live-in boyfriend who had never shown an interest in guns suddenly strapped a Glock handgun to his hip.

"It just wasn't him," she said. "It was like a different person.

"I said, ‘Hey,' and I tried to take the gun from him and that was a big no-no, and the look in his eye. I was immediately out the door within seconds."

As Troy Ficke barricaded himself in the couple's home, he threatened to kill himself. Police then evacuated the neighborhood.

The stand-off ended hours later with Ficke's admission to a psychiatric facility.

"It didn't make sense and that's when we started to realize something was wrong," she said.

For the next two years, the easy-going, artistic and loving man with whom Block and her son had built a life, struggled with mental illness.

When Ficke spoke of suicide a second time, Block took his gun while he was sleeping.

"Later on I was contacted by Metro (Police), and Metro said I need to give the gun back," Block said. "Stupidest thing I ever did. I should've just taken it to Lake Mead and thrown it in the lake."

I-Team: Lawmakers Seek to Release Mental Health Info

Two weeks later, Ficke used that gun to take his life.

"It changed my life forever," Block said. "Didn't have those dreams anymore. They were gone, just gone. Couldn't have a family with him. Sorry, I'm going to start crying. (It) just kind put my life at a halt."

Thousands of Nevada families experience the same loss each year as our state consistently reports one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

Often double the national average.

Research suggests that Nevadans, like others in rural western states, experience a lethal mix of social isolation, poor mental health and high rates of gun ownership.

"It's a very complex issue," said Misty Allen, coordinator of Nevada Suicide Prevention.

One of just four state employees, Allen works with community partners to reduce suicides, such as Reno's crisis call center.

"Research shows if someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide and has increased risk of suicide and that firearm is easily accessible, there's very little time for intervention and lethality is extremely high," she said.

Guns account for more than half of Nevada's suicides, with men ages 50 and older most at risk.

A new prevention campaign, patterned after Rhode Island's, encourages families to reduce access to lethal means, be it sharp objects, medications or firearms.

"I feel so guilty, so guilty," Block said. "Blame myself, over and over again."

Now 10 years later, Ficke's suicide is still a scab that for Block simply won't heal.

Yet she shares her story with the hopes it may save others the same pain.

"I can't let this control me," she said. "Even thought it's always going to be there."

If someone you know is at risk, help is available. The state suicide prevention hotline is open 24/7 at 800-273-8255.

Nevada is also the first state to offer crisis text messaging through the Crisis Call Center. To access intervention services, text ANSWER to 839863. All services are free of charge. 


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