• Leader & Times
Like many young people in rural areas, Braden Steckel grew up learning how to handle guns.
“I’ve been around guns all my life, grew up shooting guns, shooting handguns, even rifles, shot a lot of shotguns,” he said. “I’ve pretty much grown up with it. We got a little older, and my brother and I really got into shooting and dealt even more into the world of shooting guns.”
That experience would later lead to a holster making company, and that idea progressed as Steckel’s knowledge of guns grew.
“My brother and I have built custom ARs (Armalites) for people before,” he said. “We were looking at doing just a small scale thing. After looking into it and this place being available, do the whole thing and open up a gun store instead of doing a home based thing.”
Steckel recently opened his own gun store at 15 W. First Street in Liberal, a location he said he chose carefully after some research.
“We kind of looked around town, but after looking around and this place coming up, we decided this is probably the best option for us,” he said.
Though somewhat small, Steckel Defense has a good deal of weapons and accessories for gun enthusiasts.
“The big sellers have been the handguns, Smith & Wesson and Glock handguns,” Steckel said. “A lot of people are interested in getting an AR. It’s one we already have. We’re getting a custom AR built.”
In addition to products, Steckel said he will likewise provide gun education, particularly for those with little experience with weapons.
“We’re starting up our pistol training classes,” he said. “We’re going to be doing real basic classes for people who have never been around guns. We’ve had a lot of interest with that, especially a group of ladies. We’ve had several ladies ask about just getting a basic gun. We’re going to be doing a second step up from that, drawing from a holster, drawing from conceal, a little more advanced class. We’ll have a real advanced class after that for people who really progress through everything. That probably involves shooting on the move and shooting from cover.”
Steckel said larger gun stores will have more products on hand, but he can special order most items, giving customers greater access to what they want.
“Right now, I’m set up with five distributors who have hundreds of thousands of products that are available,” he said. “I’m looking at getting set up with a few more. I can get my hands on pretty much anything.”
Steckel said one thing that sets Steckel Defense apart from larger stores is expert advice.
“When you come in and have a question or want to know something or want expert advice, you’re getting my advice and not some random person that they just stuck behind the counter,” he said. “Some big box stores, you have that problem. They’re just there to fill the space behind the counter. I invested a lot of time and training and gaining knowledge on all the subjects.”
While he is starting out small, Steckel said he is exploring growing the training he can provide to shooters.
“Right now, we’re looking into an off-site range for our training classes,” he said. “Hopefully, this really takes off, and we can build our own facility and have our own place to do any type of training we ever want to do.”
Of course, the nation’s current political climate includes controversy over the use of guns, particularly with mass shootings seemingly happening on a frequent basis. Steckel said despite this, he has heard much more praise than conflict about opening his store.
“I’ve had people say to me when they heard I was opening up if I was worried about all this controversy going on,” he said. “No one’s really been negative to me at all. They’re just concerned about it. I’ve had a ton of support. A lot of people have said we’ve needed a gun store in Liberal for a long time. I’ve had nothing but tons of support. I’ve had no negative comments.”
Steckel, however, does take precautions when selling guns to a customer.
“Every firearm I sell or if someone comes in and orders one and it comes in and I do a transfer, I do a background check before I release it,” he said.
Steckel also works as a firefighter with the Seward County Fire Department, and he also recently had an addition to the family with a new child. Combining all this, he said, could, as expected, be a little overwhelming.
“It seems like for months now I’ve been overworked,” he said. “I almost have three full separate lives now – fire department, gun store and a family. I just had a baby. Each one of those separately fill your schedule up, and now I’m trying to cram it all together.”
Steckel said with dry conditions persisting across the area, fires did pop up a lot recently, giving him less time to get his store up and going.
“It kind of slowed down a little bit, but we were having those bad fires,” he said. “Several occasions, I was down here remodeling and had to leave to go to a fire.”
Last week, Steckel Defense was officially welcomed to the community with a ribbon cutting hosted by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce. The store is open Monday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and on Saturdays in the morning.