North American Arms (NAA) has been the undisputed champion of tiny handguns for 40 years. Their Mini revolvers, chambered in .22 Short, .22 LR and .22 Mag, are carried daily as back-up and primary defensive handguns by folks who need something truly discrete for personal protection. In 1997, the company chose to add a new line of pocket autos to complement their signature Minis.
The Guardian .32 NAA pistol is a fixed barrel, direct-blowback-operated semi-automatic pistol based on the Seecamp .32 design. The first Guardian pistols, released in 1997, were chambered for the .32 ACP. With the success of this Guardian model, North American Arms developed the next version of the pistol by increasing the dimensions to accommodate the larger .380 ACP cartridge. The result of this work is a pistol fitted with a 2.49-inch barrel, an overall length of 4.75 inches, and an unloaded weight of 18.72 ounces. It’s this larger Guardian that would eventually be chambered in .32 NAA.
.32 NAA Cartridge
Manufacturers responsible for developing pocket pistol ammunition have a tough row to hoe. They’re asked to build cartridges that yield ideal terminal ballistics, but without the stopping-power advantages derived from large bullets, capacious cartridge cases, or long barrels for the bullets to travel down. Instead, in the process of compressing the features of the cartridge to fit into pocketable handguns, stopping power and reliability are often reduced. Working in tandem with Ed Sanow, co-author of the Street Stoppers series of books describing real world ballistics, and CorBon Ammunition, North American Arms developed a round that increases pocket pistol stopping power and reliability without having to build a larger pistol to fire it.
The .32 NAA is based on the .380 ACP cartridge case with the case mouth necked down to accept .32 caliber bullets. This cartridge’s design handily addresses the two problems that plague pocket autos in general—a tendency to jam and a low level of stopping power.
Bottleneck cartridges have historically proven to be dependable in semi-autos. This is because their shape feeds smoothly from the magazine into the chamber. The rounds headspace from the shoulder instead of the case neck and a solid bullet crimp can be used to reduce the possibility of the bullet becoming dislodged as the round is chambered. Other successful bottleneck handgun cartridges include the 7.62×25 Tokarev and .357 SIG.
The bottleneck cartridge case is also useful for increasing bullet velocity. CorBon’s .32 NAA 60-grain jacketed hollow point load launches the bullet at more than 1,200 feet per second (fps) out of the Guardian’s 2.5-inch barrel, producing an estimated 192 foot-pounds of energy. Although the .32 NAA is not as powerful as larger handgun calibers, it does outperform the .32 ACP and .380 ACP.
Guardian pistols feature stainless steel construction assembled with excellent fit and finish. Although the parts are built using different methods, they’re all made of 17-4 pH stainless steel. 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 attached to the Guardian is in the grip panels and the magazine baseplates. The choice to use steel does make this pistol a little heavier than some of the other pistols on the market, but the Guardian is exceptionally reliable, sturdy, and resistant to the corrosive conditions commonly found with on-the-body carry.
Standard Guardians arrive from the factory with fixed sights and black-pebbled polymer grip panels. You’ll also find within the lockable Guardian pistol case two six-round stainless steel magazines, one with a flat baseplate and the other with a finger extension. The safety system of the Guardian 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.
As good as they are, there’s no reason to stick with an out-of-the-box Guardian if you have something else in mind. North American Arms offers Guardian owners a variety of custom 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 the work to be completed in-house.
This particular .32 NAA has been tricked out with additional features to make it an ideal 24/7 concealed carry pistol, and to give it a sleek, unique appearance. The most noticeable change is the NAA Carry Package or gun “melt down.” This involves the smoothing and rounding of all the 90-degree edges of the pistol’s frame and slide. The front and rear sights, along with the connecting rib, are removed to give the top of the pistol a snag-free profile. The triggerguard is rounded, the trigger is polished to a high shine, and any visible tool marks or casting lines are removed as the pistol is refinished with brushed flats and bead-blasted rounds.
The meltdown is very attractive and functional, but it does have one drawback: no sights. North American Arms offers a clever and practical sighting solution with their Guttersnipe sight system. A 1.25-inch groove is cut into the top of the slide, running from the rear of the slide to just behind the chamber. The groove is coated with black enamel and then a Trijicon Tritium night sight lamp is set into its apex. To create a 3-dot sight picture, two more Trijicon lamps are installed into the rear of the slide to either side of the groove. The result is a best-of-all-worlds solution: fully functional internal night sights with no chance of snagging them as the pistol is drawn.
The grip of this Guardian was enhanced with random-pattern stippling applied to the frontstrap, backstrap, and forward triggerguard. A variety of grip panels are available to replace the factory standard, including hardwoods, synthetic mother-of-pearl, and Crimson Trace Lasergrips. This pistol features handsome checkered Cocobolo grips provided by Hogue. The interior of each panel is fitted with a polymer liner to help prevent splits or cracks from forming.
Because this was a new gun ordered from the factory, the pistol qualified for the most popular custom feature NAA has to offer: A custom serial number. By following a few simple guidelines, information like nicknames, badge numbers, or important dates can all be serialized into the gun. Trust me, there’s nothing like watching someone’s eyes light up when they’re given a new NAA pistol, then seeing the light double when they understand the serial number was picked just for them.
The final touch, and possibly one of the most important, to a custom carry pistol like this one is selecting the right holster for your needs. It’s enough to make a grown man cry to see a $1,500 handgun jammed into a used, one-size-fits-all holster pulled from the $5 bin at the Army surplus store. Even with small pistols designed for concealed carry, floppy, cheap holsters can make a day of carry miserable, resulting in defensive pistols left at home. The high quality holsters available through North American Arms for the Guardian include an expertly molded Mitch Rosen cowhide pocket holster, a rugged black sharkskin pocket holster from Aker, and a secure thumb-break belt holster from DeSantis. Please, spend the money for a good holster. You’ll be glad you did.
Mastering the .32 NAA Guardian presents the same challenges as learning to shoot other hot-rod pocket pistols. The level of felt recoil produced by the super-charged .32 NAA cartridge is right in line with an Airweight J-Frame .38 Special loaded with defense-grade ammunition. Firing the pistol with the slim factory grips installed, or the similarly sized Crimson Trace Lasergrips, proved to be a handful. Switching over to Hogue’s checkered Cocobolo grips increased the grip thickness from 0.88 to 1.44 inches, providing a more rounded grip profile. This made the pistol more manageable.
The other potential challenge of working with the Guardian is the heavy trigger. If you are used to shooting double-action revolvers, the long and heavy trigger pull of the Guardian will feel familiar and will be relatively easy to learn. If you’re used to a light or single-action trigger, or you’re still learning the ropes of handgun handling, then the trigger work will require more practice.
The Guardian is intended for close-range defensive applications. With that in mind, formal accuracy testing was conducted from a bench rest with targets set at 7 yards. Pistols in the same size range as the Guardian are not generally expected to produce tight groups, but the .32 NAA did quite well. The best single target group of an inch was produced using the CorBon 60-grain jacketed hollow point, with a five 5-shot group average of 1.50 inches. The CorBon 71-grain full-metal jacket load yielded a best single group of 1.25 inches, with a five-group average of 1.60 inches. None of the test groups fired exceeded a total of 2 inches.
One event in the course of testing technically qualifies as a malfunction. It was a single stovepipe caused by the last round fired from the pistol. It can be resolved without any additional clearing drills or actions on the part of the shooter. The case simply falls free of the mechanism in the course of dropping the empty magazine, loading a fresh magazine, and racking the slide to reload.
We’re currently enjoying an extremely pocket-pistol friendly handgun market. More makes, models, and caliber options are available than ever before. With so many new guns to choose from, why should you consider the .32 NAA Guardian? Unlike some of the new kids on the block, the Guardian has a proven track record for durability and reliability. The .32 NAA cartridge offers a significant boost in stopping power compared to similar-sized cartridge options. And, best of all, you can have a Guardian built to your specifications. For more information, visit northamericanarms.com, or call 800-821-5783.