Tested: North American Arms Guardian .380 ACP Pistol

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posted on July 11, 2016
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North American Arms, based in Provo, Utah, is best known for its line-up of .22 rimfire mini revolvers which have been in production since the mid 1970s. Models include the long-barreled Sidewinder, Ported Pug and Tucker's Combo.

In 1997, the company decided to take advantage of the growing demand for pocket sized semi-automatics by introducing the first small-frame version of the Guardian chambered in .32 ACP. Inspired by the Seecamp LWS-32, these little pistols quickly garnered a reputation for being reliable and well made.  With the success of the first Guardians, and the requests of customers for a more powerful option, North American Arms spent the next few years redesigning the platform to accept the .380 ACP. This slightly larger version of the Guardian launched in 2001.

   

In the 15 years since the arrival of the redesigned version of the Guardian, several gun makers have stepped forward with subcompact .380 ACP pistols of their own. Nevertheless, this old-school semi-auto still has what it takes to keep the newcomers on their toes. This review takes a closer look at a .380 ACP version of the Guardian tricked out with several of the in-house custom upgrades North American Arms has to offer.

The Guardian is a fixed barrel, direct blow-back operated semi-automatic pistol. It's assembled using 17-4 ph stainless steel components with an excellent level of fit and finish. The slide is machined from a solid steel billet, the frame is investment cast, and all of the small parts (hammer, trigger, magazine release) are produced using Metal-Injected Molding (MIM). The only polymer parts are the grip panels and the magazine base plates.

Factory standard Guardians ship with fixed sights, satin polished flats on the slide, with a non-reflective matte finish on the top of the barrel and frame. This pistol has just three external controls including the trigger, the right side takedown button located below the rear portion of the slide, and the round left side magazine release button, which allows the 6-round stainless steel magazine to drop free when it's depressed. The trigger provides the only external safety mechanism in the form of a long, heavy trigger pull of 10 lbs. 8 oz. Luckily the trigger is very smooth, which makes it easier to work with. The exposed hammer of the double-action only firing mechanism provides second-strike capability in case of a hard primer. The pistol arrives in a lockable steel strong box with two stainless steel magazines, one with a flat base plate and the other with a finger extension.

After removing the magazine and verifying that the pistol is completely unloaded, the takedown button is depressed to allow the slide to be removed. Pull the slide backward and upward off of the frame and then move it forward off of the barrel. This reveals the dual recoil spring assembly and short guide rod located below the fixed barrel. That's all it takes to field strip the pistol for cleaning and lubrication. 

One of the first questions to crop up with pocket autos is how much do they weigh? The all-steel construction of this .380 ACP gives it an unloaded weight of 20.4-oz. with an empty magazine and the factory grips installed.  This means it weighs about twice as much as some polymer-framed options like the Ruger LCP and Kel-Tec P3AT.  But the trade-offs for the added weight include reduced recoil, a high level of durability and a variety of custom options.

One of the distinct advantages the Guardian has over the polymer pocket rockets is a set of removable grip panels. The available replacement grips add functionality or change the profile to suit your needs.  The factory installed pebbled polymer grips (left) provide a slim profile of just .940", which is only .010" wider than the slide.  Installing a set of polymer-backed checkered Hogue Cocobolo grips (right) thickens the grip profile to 1.42" in the palm swell for added control and comfort when shooting.  The Crimson Trace LG-441 laser grip (center) splits the difference at 1.05" of thickness with a flat checkered panel on the left side and a palm swell on the right.

The pistol sent for this review was treated to several in-house custom upgrades, each of which can be purchased separately. The standard fixed sights were replaced with a set of useful and easy to see Novak 3-Dot tritium night sights. The slide and frame were treated to a Carry Package Meltdown, or dehorning, of all the sharp edges and corners. The slide features front and rear scalloped serrations instead of the typical straight serrations at the rear.



The front and back of the grip frame has been stippled for added purchase and the smooth-faced trigger polished to a mirror shine. Customers can order factory new guns with custom serial numbers up to 10 characters long that can be a mix of numbers and letters to represent a nickname, birthday or special event. North American Arms offers a variety of grips, holsters, and even a glass topped display case if you would like to show off the handy work.

               

 
 

I have yet to test a center-fire pocket pistol chambered in .380 ACP that could be described as “fun” to shoot due to the often snappy levels of felt recoil. However, the customized Guardian is easier to work with than most thanks to the added weight of the steel frame, the hand filling Hogue grip panels and the Novak sights. Those who shoot double-action revolvers will feel at home with the Guardian’s long, smooth double-action only trigger pull. If you prefer single-action or safe-action (Glock) triggers, or if you’re just learning to shoot for the first time, then running this pistol's trigger will call for more practice.

I've found the Guardians to be utterly reliable with a variety of practice grade and defensive hollow point loads and this .380 ACP version was no exception. One peculiarity of the pistol's operation is the occasional stovepipe of a final round's empty case. But this only happens when the last cartridge in the magazine is fired. Because there is no slide lock, the slide must be manually cycled every time the gun is loaded. Thus the empty case simply falls out in the course of inserting a fresh magazine and racking the slide without the need for a clearance drill. It's a known factor and one that does not cause any kind of practical problems in the course of fire.

Like the other pocket pistols in its class, this .380 ACP is intended for up-close and personal self defensive situations, so accuracy testing was conducted at a distance of 7 yards from the target. At this range, producing consistent center-mass shots off of the bench was easy to do. Formal bench-rested testing consisted of five, 5-shot groups. HPR Hyperclean 90-gr. jacketed hollow points turned in the best single group of the test at 1.60" with the best five group average of 1.77".  Barnes TAC-XP 80-gr. all-copper hollow points produced a best single group of 1.64" with an average of 1.79". Winchester USA  95-gr. full-metal jacket practice loads yielded a best single group of 1.71" and an average of 1.85".

The North American Arms Guardian is a sturdy little pocket pistol designed and built to run reliably for a lifetime of daily use. It may not be the lightest option available but its proven reliability and custom features make it a solid option for deep concealed carry. Right now the best way to learn more about custom shop features online is to visit the company’s customer service page and down load the PDF of the company catalog. Or you can give them a call at 1-800-821-5783, ext. 211 for more information. If a .380 ACP is not your cup of tea, the Guardian is also available chambered in .32 ACP,  .25 NAA and .32 NAA .

NRA Specifications
Manufacturer: North American Arms
Model: NAA Guardian
Action: Double-Action Only
Caliber: .380 ACP
Finish: Stainless Steel
Grip: Hard Pebbled Black Rubber
Sights: Fixed Blade Sights
Barrel Length: 2.49"
Overall Length: 4.75"
Overall Height: 3.53"
Slide Width: 0.930"
Weight: 20.4 oz.
Trigger Pull: 10 lbs. 8 oz. 
Rifling: 1:15” RH
Grooves: 6
Capacity: 6+1 Rounds
Accessories: One Flat Base Magazine, One Finger Extension Magazine, Steel Lock Box, Owner's Manual
Factory Pistol Suggested Retail: $456
Optional Custom Features & Accessories:
Carry Package Meltdown/Dehorned (CS380-CP): $99 
Novak 3-Dot Tritium Night Sights (S380-NKT): $199
Scalloped Slide Serrations, Front & Back (CS380-SCL): $120
Stipple Grip Frame Front(CS380-FSF): $25
Stipple Grip Frame Back (CS380-FSB): $30
Polished Trigger: $25
Custom Serial Number: $75
Hogue Checkered Cocobolo Grip (G380-CBW-C): $71
Mitch Rosen Pocket Holster (HPT-380MRC): $73
Glass Top Display Box: $79

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