Four years ago, a flurry of Seecamp-like mini-pistols chambered for the little .32 ACP cartridge hit the market. The best of the batch was the carefully machined North American Arms Guardian. I was impressed with the miniature semi-automatic, yet I confess I rarely carried it.
Now, a new Guardian has burst onto the scene and its prospects for seeing more than the inside of my gunsafe are considerably brighter. NAA has up-sized the Guardian to chamber the .380 ACP cartridge, getting a gain in stopping power while increasing size and weight of the pistol only slightly.
The NAA Guardian is a double-action-only semi-automatic with a fixed barrel fitted inside an open-topped slide. The gun resembles the Seecamp design that single-handedly popularized the pocket pistol so many years ago. A magazine release is located on the left side of the grip frame in the same location we are accustomed to punch during a magazine change on larger duty pistols.
The small gun is shipped with several magazines, one with a flat base for maximum concealability and one with a hooked finger extension for improved shooting ergonomics. Shipped in a DeSantis carrying case with a belt clip, the NAA Guardian is designed for low-profile carry.
Other accessories sold through North American Arms include DeSantis' neoprene ankle holster, the rig I've used most in carrying this newest backup gun. The all-steel NAA Guardian outweighs my previous backup, a Colt Pony Pocketlite, by about six ounces.
Though the Pocketlite's alloy frame is lighter, its larger dimensions (3/4 inch overall length and 1/4 inch from magazine baseplate to top of the slide) have restricted its backup roles to waistband carry or a holster attached to the straps of my body armor.
Then the tiny .380 Guardian arrived. This backup gun disappears even on a woman's thinner ankle and is undetectable in a bellyband tucked below the waistband of pleated trousers. Best of all, it chambers a cartridge of greater power than the .32s and .25s we've traditionally used as backups and for deep concealment.
After testing the .380 Guardian, I began carrying it in an ankle holster with regularity. I soon decided the gun really needed better sights to expand the circumstances in which it could be expected to perform defensive duty.
The stock .380 Guardian comes from the factory with a vestigial blade front sight and a Lilliputian notch. Both are machined from the same stainless steel as the slide. Recognizing the penchant for serious shooters to install aftermarket sights, North American Arms tooled up the custom shop to dovetail both the .32 and .380 Guardian slide to accept sights from a cross-section of makers, including Ashley Outdoors, Novak, IWI and HIVIZ.
In talking with NAA's Ken Friel about outfitting a .380 Guardian as a police pocket backup gun, I requested the tried-and-true Novak night sights. Having tested an earlier .380 Guardian with the tiny stock sights, I was inspired to get the Novak-sighted version to the range as soon as it arrived. Best accuracy with the factory sighted Guardian had been a 3.81 inch group of Federal's Classic Hi-Shok 90 grain cartridges. Back at the range with the Novak sighted gun, a 3.20-inch group from the same ammunition was achieved. Other ammunition was tested, but the Classic Hi-Shok FMJ ammo ruled in the accuracy department.
Remembering the first .380 Guardian's stiff trigger, I had undertaken a break in period with the Novak-sighted version. For a week, during any spare moment, every pause waiting for my old computer, each time I was on hold on the phone, I dryfired the .380 Guardian toward the steel wall of the gunsafe next to my desk. I dryfired it in a two-handed grip, I dryfired it strong hand only, I dryfired it weak hand only. I dryfired it rapidly and I dryfired it slowly and deliberately.
Several weeks later, I completely disassembled the gun, giving it a good cleaning and thorough lubrication with Minute Man High Tech Gun Oil. Returning to the range, I found a rack of 6-inch steel plates and IPSC Pepper Poppers available, so I began feeding the .380 magazine after magazine of HydraShoks and Triton ammunition. Properly broken in, the new .380 Guardian was good for one-shot one-hit accuracy on the 6-inch plates from the 10-yard line.
The feeding and cycling reliability of both .380 Guardians I tested showed a willingness to cycle most any sort of .380 ammunition. Several varieties of Triton ammunition, aluminum-cased Blazer, Federal High Shok and American Eagle cartridges all worked flawlessly, except for the last round in each magazine. These were prone to jut up through the ejection port, or not make it all the way up the feed ramp.
Checking with Ken Friel of North American Arms, I learned the first batch of .380 Guardians to leave the factory had magazine lip design problems. He encouraged anyone owning one of these first Guardians to call North American Arms. Tell them the serial number of your gun and two new magazines will be sent out quickly.
While testing the first .380 Guardian, I declared the stiff trigger so unpleasant that I feared I could not get enough rounds through the gun to trust it with my life. After using dryfire and Minute Man oil to break in the Novak-sighted .380 Guardian, I've changed my tune. Beyond 50 or 60 rounds, it is still a chore to shoot, primarily due to recoil and the stiff double action trigger, which is capable of wearing a blood blister into the shooter's finger around the 50th round fired!
The .380 Guardian will never be the gun to take to a two-day, 500 round training course. However, it's entirely possible that following three or four trips to the range the owner of this new .380 will develop familiarity with its simple double-action-only function and gain confidence in its reliability and accuracy with a variety of hollowpoint ammunition.
In all likelihood, I would predict the NAA Guardian would then be trusted to get the job done in an emergency and find itself riding in a pocket or ankle rig!
North American Arms GUARDIAN .380
Caliber: .380 ACP
Magazine Capacity: 6+1
Length: 4.75 inches
Height: 3.53 inches
Width: .930 inches
Weight: 18.72 ounces (unloaded)
Suggested Retail: $449.00
Installation of aftermarket night sights: $200.00
Gila Hayes is a reserve police officer, serving as firearms instructor for her department. Author of the women’s self-defense book Effective Defense, 2nd Edition, she teaches defensive firearms to both co-ed and women’s-only classes for the Firearms Academy of Seattle (360-978-6100).