We recently sat down with Solomon Lehnerd from Rooftop Defense to discuss his background in the firearms industry and the launch of his new company, We discuss how his early experiences with the AR platform shaped his views on how he approaches the business, and why diving into the small details is important when building a hard use AR.
Q: Solomon, can you tell us a bit about your background and your first experiences with the AR platform?
Solomon Lehnerd, Rooftop Defense – I came from a military family. My old man spent over 30 years in the Air Force and was a career military man fresh out of high school. He spent some time in Korea becoming a Korean language specialist. We spent a lot of time hopping around Southeast Asia. We came back stateside for a couple of years before heading back out. His last assignment was a State Department gig in Beijing.
After Beijing came to a wrap and we were stateside for good, I had just turned 18 and Sandy Hook occurred. I learned pretty quick that I could own an AR-15. Growing up, I had always held a big interest in small arms, but I was never exposed to our gun culture here in the U.S. Living on base, the only guys with guns were security forces. When we came back and I learned it was my right to own an AR-15, I was immediately like, “sign me up for that,” no question.
I bought my first AR when I was still living with my folks. It caused a lot of problems; they weren’t on board with it. I was the first gun owner in the family. It wasn’t that they were anti-gun, but they just didn’t think I was mature enough at the time. It resulted in me getting the boot and I moved out.
Before I started Rooftop Defense, I had a pretty nomadic lifestyle — moving from one place to the next, never staying in one place for more than two years. It started with my old man being a military man and those habits bled over into my life. Early on, it was a struggle. I had a lot of different jobs over the years. Most recently, I landed a job in the natural gas industry that paid well.
Back in March, I was considering parting ways with that job over management reasons. Coronavirus came and made that decision for me. Work slowed down and most of us were laid off. I seized that opportunity to leave the Northern Virginia area and head back to Arkansas.
Q: I think I started following you from a simple video review you did. At the time, I had just purchased the rifle you were profiling and wanted to hear more about it. I thought it was very well done…
Solomon Lehnerd, Rooftop Defense – Back in 2017, I started making videos because I felt there wasn’t enough solid end-user derived information out there. My first video was on a CZ P-10 C when they first hit the scene. A few months later, I did the video on my Knight’s Armament SR-15.
By that time, my SR-15 had seen a round count in excess of 10,000 rounds. I was quite impressed with it and the Mod 2 family of weapons. Before my SR-15, I had bought and sold a lot of ARs. It was obvious to me that there was something special about these guns and that information just wasn’t making it out to the masses.
I’m naturally driven by data and analytics. Everything needs to be quantifiable. I’m a big ‘why’ guy. I like to get into the weeds and the minutia. In that video, I wanted to break the gun down, the design features and how they impact the end-user in practical application. I wanted to also show what happens when you log some serious miles on a gun, and what can be expected from a longevity perspective. That gun is reliable and continues to perform. Dependability will always be my priority.
There have always been a ton of videos where the guy shoots 200 rounds, says it has been reliable and calls it a review. I felt like I had an opportunity to do so much more than that and give back to a community that was deprived of information. My roommate at the time, Chris, and I just went into our backyard and shot that video all in one take with pajama pants. We weren’t going for a professional video, but I think the video serves it’s intended purpose.
After that video, I took a pretty long hiatus from making videos. Since then, I’ve put out a couple of videos, one on the Glock 17T and the SR-25. Looking ahead, I’d like to put out more content. I’m pretty selective about what I put out there too. There is a lot of material already out there and I wouldn’t want to add to that oversaturation. I think my niche will predominantly be in providing information on our high-end, yet under-appreciated favorites, like our KACs, our LMTs and what not.
Q: What was it about the rifles you had prior that you didn’t like?
Solomon Lehnerd, Rooftop Defense – The first AR I ever had was a Seekins Precision homebrew I bought from some dude in the parking lot of a CVS Pharmacy for way too much money. I played around with it for a while and sold it after I realized it didn’t have a dust cover or forward assist. Many of the other ARs I first bought had drop-in handguards and weren’t free-floated. Not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with that, because we’ve seen that configuration have great success. However, I felt as though there wasn’t a good reason to have less when I could have more.
Back then, I ran the buttstock all the way in. It caused me to gravitate towards ARs with extended rails. It was a rookie mistake. I did not know what I did not know. At the time, I did not understand length of pull and how its implications affected leverage when mounting the gun and mitigating recoil. Now that I run the buttstock all the way out, that space at the foreend of the rail has been replaced by lights and lasers.
Just right when I thought I had it all figured out, I bought my first suppressor off a friend of mine at 18. After the Form 4 came back, I threw it on the gun and immediately figured out my gun had issues. I sold that gun and went back to the drawing board and really began to study what makes an AR function. I started diving into design parameters like dwell time, gas port size, buffer weights, cyclic rate and how all of that is impacted by suppressors.
Q: Where did that lead you to?
Solomon Lehnerd, Rooftop Defense – Well, that was a big part of how I ended up getting a Knight’s rifle. Growing up, I had always been around Knight’s Armament weapons and equipment. Security forces on base had the RAS on all of their M4s and so did all the guns that were headed to the sandbox. I knew they made the M110 SASS and the NT4 suppressor too. When I saw the SR-15 was available commercially, I started digging into some of their history as a company and their weapons design. A large part of what drew me to the SR-15 is that it’s a key component of Knight’s weapons design to ensure reliable function suppressed and unsuppressed without making changes to the host weapon.
Considering all of the proprietary enhancements, and that it comes loaded out of the box, I took a shot on it. I figured the worst that could happen was that it would end up getting sold just like everything else. I look back and I’m glad I took a chance.
For me, it’s really as good as a gun gets straight out of the box. I changed a handful of parts on it, not because I felt I needed to, but just out of mere preference. An example of this would be the pistol grip and charging handle.
I feel the gun is the perfect weight — not too heavy, not too light. Paired with the URX 4, it gives the gun a very natural swing and point of aim. The gas system also makes these guns shoot much softer than most other comparable guns in its weight class. It’s the formula for maximum efficiency.
Once I started logging some serious miles on it, I stopped thinking about other guns. It just wasn’t necessary — it was lost energy. I had met my ‘Yin and Yang’ in a rifle. I diverted all of that money I lost selling guns into training and shooting the snot out of that thing till my thumbs bled from loading mags. It’s truly a great feeling having zero concerns about dependable equipment.
Q: I notice that Rooftop Defense is very Knight’s heavy…This should not come as a surprise as you also run a KAC-focused group on Facebook. Can you give us an overview of what Rooftop Defense is and why you carry what you do?
Solomon Lehnerd, Rooftop Defense – In 2016, I started the KAC Owners Group on Facebook simply because I felt these guns didn’t get enough cred. I have always been one of the biggest advocates for Knight’s rifles.
I’m a workaholic, so when I lost my job back in March, life got strange real quick without a job. Truthfully, being a big ‘why’ guy, I have always had struggles working under other people. Working for myself and starting Rooftop Defense was a natural progression after being around the block for 25 years.
When I started, I knew I wanted to form a strong brand identity and culture. Having always been called ‘Rooftop’ by many of my friends, I knew the name of the shop had to have it. Myself being a Korean American, I felt the name ‘Rooftop Defense’ was very applicable. It pays homage to my Korean heritage and how those Americans took to the rooftops to defend their own livelihood when all else failed during the LA Riots of ’92. I am quite proud of how they carried themselves and successfully executed the mission.
I am privileged to carry on that torch and positively represent my Korean heritage and the American way of life.I believe that spirit lives on, that we are all Rooftop Defenders. Contrary to what some people believe in this country, the Second Amendment was never about hunting or sporting use — it’s about the regular guy, like you and me, having the ability to protect our God-given rights.
With all of that in mind, my mission at Rooftop Defense is to offer individuals the best and most dependable weapons and customer service without compromise. Every item I carry is there for a reason. I do not sell anything that I would not trust my life to without hesitation — because that is the bar I set for myself. My customers are my fellow Americans first and my customers second. Their safety and protection demand the best there is to offer, bar none.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Solomon Lehnerd, Rooftop Defense – Before I started Rooftop Defense, I spent years building relationships with people that were either shooters like myself, or guys in the industry. Working at Rooftop Defense did not change that. If anything, it provided me more opportunities for positive engagement. I enjoy building on my existing relationships and forming new relationships daily. It’s something that I am passionate about. At the end of the day, my goal is to get good information out there to the guys. I figured out that if I prioritize being helpful in providing good information, guys will want to support me, and the sales naturally follow. I want anything I do to be associated with excellence.My goal is to be the vendor that I would like to order from.
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Sol at Rooftop is the only guy giving away dinner with an order. And a pocket constitution. He goes above and beyond and I’m glad to have been turned on to his shop by my serious shooter friends. I can’t wait till the KACs are back in stock