By B. Gil Horman, Gun Digest
North American Arms (NAA) has been providing some of the smallest concealed-carry firearms available since 1971. Their .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum Mini revolvers are some of the few handguns available that can be rightfully described as tiny. In 1997, the company expanded their line-up to include a series of stainless steel semi-autos.
Dubbed the Guardian, this pocket pistol is of a fixed barrel, direct-blowback operated design based on the Seecamp .32 ACP. The first version was the Seecamp-sized small-frame .32 ACP. As the popularity of the pistol grew, North American Arms developed a slightly larger version of the platform designed to fire .380 ACP.
Bottling the Pocket Rocket
The Guardians’ rudimentary standard sights (left) can be upgraded with Gutter Snipe, Novak or XS night sight systems. Author Photo
Recognizing that one of the primary limitations of pocket pistols is the small cartridges they employ, NAA teamed up with Corbon Ammunition to develop and standardize two bottleneck pistol cartridges in order to enhance the Guardians’ stopping power.
For the smaller .32 ACP-sized frames, they produced the .25 NAA that was inspired by the 25/32 JBW wildcat cartridge originally conceived by gun writer J.B. Wood. The cartridge consists of a standard .32 ACP case necked down to hold a .251-caliber slug.
In other words, the bullet of a .25 ACP is launched by the powder charge of a .32 ACP. The result is a significant boost in velocity. Corbon’s .25 NAA 50-grain full-metal jacket loads leave the Guardian barrel with an average speed of 1,050 fps generating 122 foot-pounds of energy, while the 35-grain jacketed hollow points travel at around 1,200 fps, also with 122 foot-pounds of energy.
Using the same bottleneck approach, the .32 NAA cartridge was developed for the larger Guardian frame.
A standard .380 ACP cartridge case was necked down to hold a .32-caliber bullet. Corbon’s 71-grain full-metal jacket load yields around 1,000 fps and 158 foot-pounds of energy and the 60-grain jacketed hollow point round runs at 1,200 fps with 192 foot-pounds of energy.
Recently, Hornady introduced a new .32 NAA load topped with an 80-grain FTX bullet, which flies at an average of 1,000 fps with 178 foot-pounds of energy. Although the NAA bottleneck cartridges will not outperform larger cartridges, such as the 9mm, they do exceed the power levels of many standard .32 ACP and .380 ACP loads.
NAA Guardian Features
The Guardian .25 NAA and .32 NAA pistols feature an all-stainless-steel construction assembled with excellent fit and finish. All of the components are constructed of 17-4 ph stainless steel using various methods.
The slide is machined from a 17-4 ph 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 to be found on these pistols is in the black pebble-textured grip panels and the magazine base plates.
Hornady knew they could develop a top-notch round for the little pistol, so they have started shipping a .32 NAA round loaded with an 80-grain FTX bullet that travels at 1,000 fps and produces 178 foot-pounds of energy. Testing this new load in the Guardian showed it to be reliable and accurate.
The all-steel construction does make the Guardian a little heavier than some of their competitors, but the guns are exceptionally reliable, sturdy and resistant to the corrosive conditions commonly found with pocket carry.
Standard Guardians arrive from the factory with fixed sights and two six-round stainless steel magazines, one with a flat base plate and the other with a finger extension.
The exposed hammer of the double-action-only firing mechanism provides second-strike capability in case of a hard primer. The external safety system is the same as that found on a double-action revolver. In other words, there are no levers, switches or buttons to fuss with, just the long and heavy 10-pound stroke of the double-action-only trigger.
But there’s no reason to stick with an out-of-the-box Guardian if you have something else in mind. The company provides their customers with a variety of pistol upgrades through their in-house custom shop. New guns can be built from scratch with the features you want or existing pistols can be sent back to the factory for most of the alterations they offer.
The .25 NAA provided for this review was topped with an excellent set of 3-Dot Novak night sights, and the polymer grip panels were traded out for a set of smooth Hogue Coco Bolo grip panels. The grip frame of this pistol is quite short, with only enough room for a one-finger grip, so the .55-inch-thick wood grips can make the diminutive pistol easier to hold.
The .32 NAA factory sights were replaced by an easy to see XS Big Dot sight set featuring a .16-diameter white epoxy dot front sight with a tritium night sight insert. The grips were replaced with a Crimson Trace LG-441 laser grip, which arrives pre-sighted out to 50 feet.
The grip frames of both test pistols were enhanced with random-pattern stippling applied to the front strap, back strap and the front of the rounded trigger guard.
And because these pistols were ordered from the factory, North American Arms surprised us by adding one of their most popular custom features, namely custom serial numbers. By following a few simple company guidelines, information like nicknames, badge numbers or important dates can all be serialized into the gun. This can make a pistol that is gift for a loved one (or for yourself) truly a one-of-a-kind item.
At The Range
Mastering the Guardian bottleneck cartridge pistols will require the same kind of practice and patience needed to learn the operations of any souped-up pocket pistol.
Small semi-autos with an abbreviated grip frame and a reduced sight radius always require practice. If you are used to shooting double-action revolvers, the long, smooth, 10-pound pull of the double-action-only trigger will feel familiar and will be relatively easy to learn. If you’re a fan of light or single-action triggers, or if you’re new to shooting handguns, then the trigger work will require more practice.
The Guardians tested in this story were made especially for this review with custom Gun Digest serial numbers. Custom serial numbers make these guns a true one-of-a-kind gift.
The .25 NAA produced a relatively mild level of felt recoil, especially for having a short, one-finger grip. On the other hand, the .32 NAA’s recoil was on par with an Airweight J-Frame .38 Special loaded with defense-grade ammunition. In other words, it had plenty of pep but it was not painful to work with.
The Guardians are intended for close-range defensive applications and so formal accuracy testing consisted of firing five five-shot groups from a bench rest into targets set at 7 yards. Pistols of this size are not generally expected to produce tight groups.
However, the Guardians demonstrated top-notch accuracy for up-close and personal protection. The .25 NAA produced group averages between 1.51 to 1.77 inches, while the .32 NAA kept its groups hovering between 1.53 to 1.71 inches in size. Off the bench, it was easy to keep all shots center of mass at 7 yards during defensive drills. Both pistols functioned flawlessly with all of the loads tested.
Why Choose a Guardian?
With so many makes, models and caliber options in pocket pistols to choose from these days, why do the North American Arms Guardian pistols in .25 NAA and .32 NAA warrant consideration?
The Guardians have a proven design with a track record for durability. The all-stainless-steel construction of the pistols can hold up to the rigors of daily carry.
Some pocket rockets demonstrate a tendency to jam, so it’s important to know the pistol and caliber combination that’s in place as a last line of defense is going to work when called upon. Lastly, the bottleneck Guardians feed reliably and generate a significant boost in stopping power when compared to the other cartridges in their size class.
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