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Compact concealed-carry 9mm pistols are among the hottest selling firearms these days, so it makes perfect sense for new companies to get in on the action. Honor Defense recently launched its line of Honor Guard handguns to give gun buyers another choice in personal protection.

I recently got the chance to visit Honor Defense’s factory in Gainesville, Georgia, where I learned that this is one company that’s all business. While there, not only did I witness what goes into building an Honor Guard 9mm, but I was also able to roll up my sleeves and build one myself. I learned about the company’s products and philosophy as well as the man behind the guns.

According to the company’s president and owner, Gary Ramey, stellar customer service is a key ingredient to Honor Defense. Ten years in the planning, he learned from previous experience that engineering consumer-driven features into his pistols and only using parts made in America make a difference to buyers. All of his gunsmiths are veterans, too.

Built For Shooters

Honor Defense Honor Guard FIST pistol shop
After working for the USA Shooting Team and Beretta, Gary Ramey set his sights on starting his own company, but before he started making guns, he consulted experts within the industry to learn what features would be the most practical.

Ramey is a “gun guy” at heart. He grew up in western Pennsylvania and shot on the collegiate small-bore rifle team at Penn State. “When you compete up there, you compete against the shooters from West Point and Annapolis,” which have produced some excellent shooters over the past several decades.

Ramey’s résumé in the gun industry is pretty impressive as well. He worked for the USA Shooting Team, Tasco, and was vice president of sales and marketing for Beretta USA. Along his winding career path, he was promoted to general manager at Hanes, and it’s very likely someone in your family has worn a garment this week that Ramey had a hand in developing and launching at that clothing giant.

Moving off the drawing board and into the board room, Ramey has assembled a great team of firearms advisors to help him develop Honor Defense’s pistols. Nick Fleischman is an armorer and range master who spent 18 years with the Fresno, California, Police Department. Retired Command Master Chief Britt Slabinski spent 26 years in the Navy as a SEAL and has developed products for DEVGRU. Julianna Crowder is the founder of A Girl and A Gun, and she is an IDPA-certified safety officer as well as an NRA-certified instructor. Finally, Michael Nussbaum has worked with the DEA.

Honor Defense Honor Guard FIST pistol build
Unlike most product reviews in this industry where a writer is sent an already finished gun, the author (left) was invited to Honor Defense’s facility to build his own before later running it at his local range.

“All four of them gave us great advice,” Ramey said. “I learned a lot. You think you know a lot about firearms until you talk to people that carry one for a living every day. You learn things about what the consumers tell you, like stippling on the grip. We spent months on that one.”

Ramey suffered every detail, like sights. “Our advisors said, ‘You need it to be snag-free coming out of the holster, not going in.’ Nick piped up and said, ‘We train right-handed and left-handed in case one arm is taken out of the fight. I need to be able to rack the slide one-handed.’ We designed our rear sight to be curved at the back so it won’t catch when you are drawing. You can rack the slide on your belt, on a table. And I’ve had people ask, ‘When’s that really practical for a civilian?’ Well, let’s say that you are holding a car or bedroom door closed, or holding back your kids, and need to rack the slide. How are you going to do it? You can’t with some of the other guns. So, ours are designed this way for a very specific reason. Everybody says, ‘That’s never going to happen to me.’ If it ever should, you are going to appreciate this feature.”

Easy To Use

Honor Defense Honor Guard FIST pistol frame
While the author built and tested an all-black pistol, Honor Defense offers a variety of frame colors, and each frame accepts two different backstraps to fit a wide variety of shooters.

The ease of racking a slide on a semi-auto is important, whether it’s in the gun shop or in a gun fight. Honor Guards have a lot of gripping area. “You can rack from the front or the back,” Ramey said. “Our logo is large, and we get teased about that a lot. But you know what, if you’re going to rack left-handed, for example, you’ve got some texturing to grab right in the middle of the slide. There’s a functional reason for it.”

Sweaty hands? No problem. The Honor Guard’s designers went to great lengths to get the molded checkering right. “Nick used to carry a popular brand of pistol, and he said, ‘Our struggle out on the West Coast, where it’s warm, is that our hands sweat. We can’t grip these guns, so we’re trying to get out our irons and stipple and mark them up.’ Our custom texturing runs all the way up the frame, because that’s where your other thumb should be.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re right- or left-handed—the Honor Guard has ambidextrous controls. The slide and magazine releases are ambidextrous, as is the manual safety if you choose a model so equipped. And the pistol is easy to take down for cleaning or maintenance. “No trigger pull or tools are needed for disassembly,” Ramey said with satisfaction. “On ours, you just move the takedown lever and the slide comes right off. You don’t have to pull the trigger.” At the muzzle, the slide is beveled for easier reholstering, and it looks pretty cool.

The Honor Guard is built to fit a broad range of hand sizes. Two sizes of backstraps allow personal fitting. This pistol also comes standard with two magazines—a seven-rounder as well as an extended eight-rounder.

This pistol features a wide trigger with a 7-pound pull. And since the Honor Guard is a small gun, many shooters “get a lot of finger inside the triggerguard,” Ramey said. “In many cases, they pull the trigger with the crook of their finger, and they tend to pull the trigger sideways a little bit. So, we made ours wide. The crook hits the corner of the trigger, and they’re pulling with the pad of their finger for better accuracy.”

I tested the FIST (Firearm with Integrated STandoff) variant, which is designed to put some distance between the muzzle and any obstruction that might push the slide back, out of battery, causing the pistol to not fire. If you get into a deadly scrape and your attacker has you in a bear hug, you might have to punch your way clear with your gun-filled hand at the same time that you are trying to get a round off.

Honor Guard FIST Range Time

Honor Defense Honor Guard FIST pistol test
At the range, the Honor Guard FIST digested 500 rounds without a single hitch and produced some impressive groups for its size, thanks in part to its high-visibility sights.

Not only did I get to build an Honor Guard, but I also got to do some serious shooting with it a few weeks after visiting Honor Defense. While at the factory, I got to test-fire the pistol into a bullet trap, but we ran out of time for range testing that day. A few weeks after I built the Honor Guard FIST, it arrived at the Franklin Gun Shop.

I chose five different factory loads to test the Honor Guard FIST. I fired 10 rounds across an Oehler 35P chronograph to record velocity and standard deviation data. After that was accomplished, I fired multiple five-round groups at both 7 and 25 yards to determine the pistol’s inherent accuracy. The 25-yard groups were fired from a steady rest on a solid bench, and the 7-yard shots were fired off-hand. After that, I fired a couple hundred more rounds through the gun at IPSC-style steel targets for a bit of real-world testing.

The Honor Guard FIST sent more than 500 rounds downrange without a single malfunction, which is pretty impressive for a gun that wasn’t broken in yet.

Hornady’s 115-grain Z-MAX ammo averaged 1,044 fps with a standard deviation of 5 fps. This load put its five best shots into 4.47 inches at 25 yards. At 7 yards, this load’s best five-shot group measured 2.51 inches wide.

Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Defense load averaged 1,017 fps, and it posted a standard deviation of 11 fps. The smallest five-shot groups measured 2.88 and 4.89 inches at 7 and 25 yards, respectively. Aguila’s 115-grain FMJs did well, too. At 25 yards, it kept five shots under 2.75 inches. At 7 yards, this ammo printed a 1.78-inch group. The average velocity was 1,087 fps with a standard deviation of 5 fps.

Remington’s 124-grain Golden Saber JHPs averaged 1,077 fps with a standard deviation of 16 fps. The smallest group at 25 yards measured 6.21 inches, but surprisingly, it kept a single group at 7 yards under 1.68 inches.

Black Hills’ 124-grain JHPs produced a 25-yard group that measured 4.21 inches, and at 7 yards, five shots clustered into 2.42 inches. The average velocity was 1,067 fps, and the standard deviation was just 9 fps.

Making The Cut

Honor Defense Honor Guard FIST pistol groupings

At 7 yards, the bottom of each group landed 2.5 to 3 inches above my point of aim. There’s no height adjustment for this pistol’s sights. It’s a personal preference, but I want rounds to cluster around the perceived point of aim. Other shooters may get different results shooting the same pistol and loads.

In the end, the Honor Guard felt great and fit my hands well, and I’m a rather picky pistol shooter. It also performed very well considering its price. This new compact 9mm from Honor Defense has a lot of features, and after you put a few rounds downrange with it, I’m sure you’ll be satisfied, too.

Caliber: 9mm

Barrel: 3.2 inches

OA Length: 6.6 inches

Weight: 22 ounces (empty)

Grips: Polymer

Sights: Three-dot

Action: Striker-fired

Finish: Matte Black

Capacity: 7+1, 8+1

MSRP: $499

For more information, visit honordefense.com.

This article was originally published in “Combat Handguns” September/October 2017. To subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.

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