North American Arms Guardian
A review by Tim Pearce
I don't claim to be an expert on everything, everywhere. There are a great deal of firearms I have no shooting experience with, and others that I haven't even ever had in my hands. But, being a gun dealer for two and a half years, at the time of this writing, has exposed me to a great deal of what is out there. Since it is, as one might expect, often a "kid in a candy shop" sort of situation for a gun enthusiast to be surrounded by hundreds of firearms day in and day out, I have a bit of a collection, myself, now. So, while I may not have the ability to recall the days when they introduced the .44 Magnum to compare it with the introduction of whatever new cartridge that's been produced, I am, in my humble opinion, far from ignorant or inexperienced when it comes to firearms. Thus, while this is not the writing of a Gun Guru, it is based upon experience.
When I obtained my concealed carry permit, way back in the ancient mists of time that shrouded the year 2005, it quickly became apparent that carrying a full-size pistol for concealed carry just wasn't going to work for me in the summer. By this time, I'd already started on my little quest to own a handgun in every popular pistol caliber. I'd scoured the websites of dozens of manufacturers, getting a grasp on what was out there, what worked, and what I wanted. So, when it became apparent that the only kind of concealed carry that would work well for me would be pocket carry, I already knew what brands to look at, and what calibers my options would include.
I had, I'm pretty sure, fired my brother's Glock(s) by this time. The "action-and-a-half" (as I refer to the type of action Glocks, XDs, and others use) was interesting, but for a gun that I was, at the time, going to just toss into a pocket without a holster, I didn't really want a light trigger pull. I wanted something that would resist enough if, for some stupid reason, my finger were to accidentally be touching it. This ruled out the Kahrs, unfortunately.
I immediately had a pretty low opinion of the Kel-Tecs, having seen them close up. I'd dismissed them as a little too junky, as well as ugly. If I'd known then that there were many people who would sing their praises, I might have gotten one. However reliable some people have found them, my experience now makes me very glad I didn't get a Kel-Tec.
The Beretta Tomcat was thicker than I wanted. The Seacamp so backordered, it might as well not exist.
By process of elimination, I arrived on the North American Arms Guardian line. At the time, I didn't even know about the two proprietary cartridges they'd announced, so it was a tie between the .32 ACP and the .380 ACP. At the time, I was happy that the gun had most of the features I wanted.
The North American Arms Guardian is a true DOA (double-action only). Meaning that pulling the trigger pulls the hammer back and then releases it to strike the firing pin. It does this every time, even if the previous strike did not discharge a cartridge in the chamber. Glocks and Kel-Tecs are not DOA, because if you pull the trigger and the firing pin fails to discharge a cartridge in the chamber, you must pull the slide back (at least somewhat) and release it again before the gun can function. But, as a Glock does more than just release the firing pin with the trigger, it's not truly Single Action, either. Hence my term "action and a half." One of the things I consider important in a concealed carry gun is true Double Action function, whether or not it also has a Single Action function.
Getting back to the topic at hand, while the Guardian does, indeed, have a true DAO action, it has a very stiff trigger pull. 10lbs as advertised. It is also a long trigger pull, though I, at least, would call it pretty smooth. One must hold the gun a little differently than usual to accomodate their trigger finger coming so far back. As such, this is not a terribly accurate gun. Though, on the plus side, the barrel is part of the frame, so there's no repositioning of the barrel to further worsen accuracy.
There is no last-round lock-open on the Guardians, unfortunately. While I'm sure it would have been difficult to add one, it would be handy, since the main spring is very stiff, practically preventing most people from sticking a round into the chamber without loading it from the top of a magazine. There is something of a tendency for the last round fired from the gun to get caught in the slide as it returns forward. While it worried me at first (and annoyed me, as it bent up the case enough to make it useless for handloading), it is normal, and it does serve as an unreliable indication that your gun is empty.
Guardians have no appreciable safeties. I don't believe they really have a drop safety, other than the fact that the hammer sits recessed within the back of the gun when the gun is in battery, so only if it lands on something that would hit the hammer and not the rest of the gun would there be much of a chance of the gun discharging from being dropped. Additionally, the gun doesn't weigh much, so it may have to be dropped pretty hard, anyway. I have no safe way of testing this, so I have not done so. The exception to this "no safeties" issue is the "California Model" which had an integral gun lock added to it in order to make it legal to sell in California. Unsurprisingly, California kept it illegal anyway, proving, yet again, that their guns laws are about keeping the citizens disarmed, not about making sure the citizens have safe products. The .380 ACP Guardian I own and use as my summer CCW gun is a California Model. I even rescued it from said fascist state, where it was lounging around, waiting for an LEO to take an interest, since only LEOs can legally own them.
Being such small guns, the reliability of a Guardian is going to depend considerably upon the ability of the user to hold it tightly, which isn't always as easy as you'd expect. The smaller sub-family, being the .32 ACP and .25 NAA models, have a very short grip. I purchased a .32 ACP version first, and, for some time, found it reliable enough, except when I tried adding some cushioning material on the back to help buffer recoil. It liked Winchester Silvertips, which was no surprise since, for some odd reason, that's what NAA uses to test them for reliability. But, due to its age (it was old enough that its serial number stared with AA) the main spring was worn out, having been purchased used. This manifested a few months in, as a tendency for the slide to go so far back that it would get slightly stuck and not return forward under its own power. Strangely, it only did this with 71gr bullet loads. I called up the manufacturer, and they said that was, indeed, strange behavior. So, off to Provo, Utah, where NAA is based, my little Guardian went. It stayed there for a month, I think, before returning with brand new springs, and, much to my delight, new grip screws (the originals were a bit corroded). The slide never again got locked back, but the new and strong springs greatly increased the need for a strong grip on the gun. Therein lies a problem for someone with fingers like mine. The grip is so small, I could not get more than one finger around it, and, even with the little finger extension baseplates for the magazines, reliability plummetted as low as 75% with some defensive cartridges. Thinking something new was wrong with it, I wound up sending the gun back for further service. But, while it was away, I deduced what the problem was, and that no amount of polishing or replacement of springs was going to fix it. I needed a bigger gun, so I purchased one of the .380 ACPs, and it's been a very reliable gun since I can get two fingers on the grip, *and* I canuse the little finger extension baseplates to further the leverage.
If I had it all to do over again, I think I would have gone with the .380 ACP right out of the gate, but with front and rear stippling of the metal parts of the grips. Regardless of how reliable they've been, these Guardians tend to shift a bit in my hand, requiring me to shift it in my hand every few shots to get it back into a comfortable position.
The standard sights on the Guardian are very rudimentary and not adjustable, taking the form of a thin ridge over the muzzle and two thin ridges on the back of the slide. But, this really is a gun designed for the 7 yard range, so they are certainly sufficient, especially with practice. NAA offers other sight packages, including having the sights entirely removed, in their custom shop. If you're considering a Guardian, you should take a look at the sights they offer, not to mention the grip stipling.
A problem that has arrisen in both my .32 ACP and .380 ACP Guardians is that, to put it bluntly, the slide release button is made of pot metal. Twice in my .32 ACP Guardian and once in my .380 ACP Guardian, this button has broken in two. Strangely, the gun works just fine in this situation, and I only noticed it when I was taking the gun apart for cleaning it. I've not even had any real trouble getting the slide off when the button breaks. In NAA's credit, however, any time a little part like this has broken or gone missing, they've been happy to replace it for free. They don't piss and moan about doing it, either. We've even offered to pay for the parts, and they are still happy to send them to us for free. So, in terms of Customer Service, I really could not be happier with this company.
At one point, the extractor for my .380 ACP Guardian went missing. I never even noticed a difference. It kept feeding and extracting just fine. The extractor doesn't seem to do a whole lot on these guns, though I've never had a stuck case, so I can't really say for sure. When I'm clearing the gun, the extracted round goes out and down the magazine well, instead of being kicked out to the side. This is, I believe, the reason for the cases getting trapped in the slide when it's the last round fired. As usual for NAA, they sent me a replacement for free.
I recently purchased a Guardian in .32 NAA, a proprietary cartridge developed between NAA and Cor-bon. It's a .380 ACP case necked down to .32 caliber. This makes for very fast but light and narrow bullets. It's not a round that seems to have gained much acceptance, except in people, like myself, that are interested in trying out new things. Much of the shooting public seems to favor the tried and true over anything remotely new, so it's entirely possible this round will fade into obscurity. From Cor-bon's initial trials, this round would do far better in a 4" barrel, but the likelyhood of anyone bothering to make such a gun is pretty low. The benefit of this sort of cartridge is in greater impact speed resulting in greater violence in the temporary cavitation, or at least that's the theory. I'm not terribly hopeful about the future of this cartridge, as I believe most people feel that wider is best, and you can get the same number of .380 ACPs in the same space as a number of .32 NAAs.
I plan to purchase the .25 NAA (.32 ACP case necked down to .25 caliber) Guardian at some point, despite my fears that it will prove unreliable, since no one else does, or likely will, make a gun that chambers this cartridge. It seems to have gained even less acceptance, as people seem to have a tendency to automatically dismiss it based upon the pathetic performance of .25 ACP. It is another cartridge that would greatly benefit from a longer barrel, and one that is even less likely to ever be used in one.
Like any semi-automatic, however, the NAA Guardian performs admirably once you get your grip right, and give it an ammunition it likes. So, while this review may sound somewhat negative, I am not going to replace my .380 ACP Guardian as my summer CCW gun until something considerably better comes along. Which may eventually happen, considering Ruger's success with the LCP.
If you do decide to go with a Guardian, don't let that 10 pound trigger pull sway you into not getting a pocket holster. They make the gun a little safer, as well as help to make sure the gun remains pointed in such a direction that shoving your hand into your pocket will result in your hand wrapping wround the grip, and not some other part of the gun. Mine is from Galco (it's designed for a Colt Pony), but I know other companies make pocket holsters for these guns.