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NAA Guardian .380ACP and Kahr PM9 9mm — best bet backup guns!!

GUN TEST | Handguns 2008 Buyer’s Guide, p. 34 – 39
By D.K. Pridgen

Pocket power allows the discreet carry of effective handguns.

I believe Massad Ayoob has been credited with the advice “friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.” Under most circumstances, I agree, especially if the mouse gun is one’s only armament. However, they are ideal for backups to primary handguns. I know several people who carry a duplicate of their primary as their backup, but there are more people who have chosen a more compact model of their primary instead.

For many, dress and lifestyle dictate backup size, usually leading to a pistol small enough to tuck discreetly in a pants pocket. Advocates of revolvers as pocket guns may be able to carry it off, but no matter the cut of the pants, my wife can spot it a mile away, quipping about a potato in my pocket! For pocket carry, I prefer flat pistols with revolver-like triggers and minimum external controls or snag points.

Truthfully, I suspect more folks tote a pocket gun as their primary than any other weapon. As nifty as that “master blaster” from the newest hotrod pistolsmith is, it doesn’t take long for the average concealed carrier to gradually downsize to the pocket variety. Even those who adhere to the “big gun” theory occasionally find themselves where only pocket carry will suffice.

Many pocket carriers believe just about any handgun will do. I believe in the bigger is better theory of bullets, and usually try to stick with either a 9mm or .380ACP, in a quality handgun.

As I’ve carried a pocket gun for at least 10 years, I have my own ideas about pocket carry. First off, it’s a backup for my primary, which means it goes in my offside front pocket. If my dominant hand is available, it’ll be drawing my primary or fending off an attack. An offside carry plus is the natural action of slipping both hands into pockets when reaching for my car keys and having my support hand on the gun.

I’ve developed habits based around pocket carry, and as such, if I’m armed with only a pocket gun it remains offside rather than moving to the dominant side pocket. Countless drawstrokes guide my support hand to the support side pocket, and my dominant hand to my belt. Why try to deprogram training?

Nothing else is carried in the gun pocket, avoiding any entanglements during the draw, and the pistol rides in a holster to keep it stabilized, upright and safe. I’m aware of what can happen when, either faced with an assailant or emptying my pockets at the end of the day, should my keys or anything else get snagged on the trigger.

Several companies offer quality .380ACP pistols that will work nicely in a pants pocket. I’ve happily carried many of them, but North American’s Guardian .380 finds its way into my pants pocket most often. As luck would have it, this was Gun One under consideration.

Gun Two, the Kahr PM9, is one of the few models from this company I haven’t handled previous to this article. All my experiences with Kahr products have made me a believer in this innovative company.

Both of the pistols are perfect for my style of carry. With my NAA .380ACP already on hand, and the PM9 on order, I requested a few holsters and waited for everything to arrive.

Guardian Details

Accuracy at combat distances is excellent for both pocket pistols.

The NAA Guardian .380ACP has an abundance of holsters available for pocket carry. (Clockwise from pistol) Mitch Rosen, Galco, Alessi, and Sunrise.

(1) The hammer found on the NAA Guardian .380ACP rides flush within the slide except during firing. (2) Sights on the author’s NAA are a trough that includes three tritium inserts.

(3) The NAA Guardian uses an external extractor. Take-down button, grooves on slide, and mag release button on the left side are all that is found on the NAA’s exterior.

Author found testing of both pistols eye-opening.

DeSantis offers the Nemesis (right) and the new Super Fly rubberized pocket holsters.

These offerings from Galco make carrying the Kahr PM9 pleasurable, whether in pocket or on the belt.

Before 1997, I might have said North American Arms was a company well known for the production of their inestimable stainless steel mini-revolvers. Of course, NAA still makes those quality mini-revolvers, with no sign of slowing down. However, in 1997 NAA jumped feet first into a niche market, taking it to a new level. Seecamp’s .32ACP pistol was so sought after by the cognoscenti as the smallest centerfire pocket gun around that scalper prices had escalated to unbelievable heights.

NAA’s introduction of their affordable and available Guardian .32ACP, similar in size and design to the Seecamp, sports a 2.5-inch barrel. It was greeted with loud acclaim. Then came the .380ACP, a slightly upscale version of the .32, followed by the .25NAA and .32NAA versions. The latter two built around bottleneck .32ACP and .380ACP cartridges.

Over 10 years have passed, and NAA’s Guardians are still going strong. Everyone I know who owns a Guardian has found them dependable little shooters. NAA manufactures pistols using modern techniques; CNC, castings, and MIM, resulting in an excellent fit time after time, and the price is usually under $500.

The 17-4 pH stainless steel Guardian .380ACP with polymer grips, weighs in at a pleasant 18.7 ounces with an empty 6-round magazine in place. All fit nicely in my average-sized palm. Excluding the trigger, only two controls grace the Guardian’s exterior: disassembly button and the traditionally located magazine release.

On the basic models, sights are rudimentary, integral affairs. How much do you really need on a back-up gun, designed for shoving at the threat and firing from an arm’s length? Other options are available, though. On mine, I requested trough-type sights reminiscent of the ASP Model 39 conversions, with tritium inserts.

The hammer rides flush with the slide, until it moves rearward during the DAO trigger stroke. Which, by the way, registered 10 pounds on my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. The triggerguard is ample for just about anyone’s fingers, but wearing gloves might be problematic.

Grips are pebbled black polymer, providing a surprisingly secure grip when a .380ACP cartridge is set off in this lightweight package. Speaking of the grip, hand size will determine if you get two full fingers on this one. Most will. If that becomes a difficulty, NAA has magazines with finger rests to complement those with flat bases.

Load Velocity ES SD Accuracy
CorBon 80 DPX 926 19 8.4 2.14
CorBon 90 JHP +P 948 33 13.6 2.66
Speer 90 GDHP +P 877 33 14.1 2.66
Federal 90 HSHP PD 900 48 18.1 2.35
Remington 102 GSHP 860 31 11.2 2.49
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity, ES (Extreme Spread) and SD (Standard Deviation) in feet per second (fps) by a PACT Chronograph and accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups at 15 yards.
Temperature: 70 degrees Fahrenheit

PM9 Details

When Kahr first hit the market with their all-steel pistols they were an immediate hit. Compact firepower in serious calibers, Kahr incorporates quite a few advanced design features. One was the offset barrel feed ramp, allowing the trigger to ride higher in the frame, dropping the bore line lower in the hand. This helps with recoil control.

For many, steel Kahr’s were a bit like how my brother described my second son three decades ago, surprisingly heavy when picked up. Those wanting the Kahr design and quality in a lighter weight heralded the advent of the Kahr polymer series, duplicating the steel configurations. In steel, my favorite was the Covert models with abbreviated butts and full-size slides. However, for pocket carry, the extra half-inch of side is something I can do without.

Kahr’s DAO, striker-fired PM9, is also manufactured using CNC and castings, as well as a molded polymer frame, which keeps the price around $750, and allows Kahr to produce boatloads of pistols with the same tight tolerances. The 6 + 1 shot Kahr with its 3-inch barrel, barely overfills my palm, stretching from heel to fingertips with the butt just peeping out the bottom of my hand. All in all, the size, and the 14-ounce weight, are perhaps just at the upper end of pants pocket pistol dimensions, but it makes it!

Sights are dovetailed with a black and white bar-dot system, and they contrast well against the matte finish on the slide top. Slides are machined from 416 stainless steel that can also be ordered blackened. The black polymer frame has very effective pebbled texturing on the sides, and checkering on the front and back straps. Again, a two-fingered grip is about all the PM size frame affords. Which is why for offside pocket carry, where one-handed shooting will probably be the norm, I chose 9mm instead of a .40. An extended magazine with a polymer boot can be used for a reload.

The triggerguard is generous, but not massive, and the trigger required 6 to 6.5 pounds of pressure to fire. Like Guardians, PM9s only have disassembly lever and magazine release on the exterior.

Load Velocity ES SD Accuracy
CorBon 115 DPX 1172 39 14.1 2.18
Hornady 124 XTPHP 1019 16 5.9 2.29
Remington 124 GSHP 1011 20 9.6 2.33
Speer 124 GDHP 1077 22 9.7 2.37
Federal 135 HSHP PD 958 18 8.3 2.32
Winchester 147 SXTHP 826 19 8.7 2.23
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity, ES (Extreme Spread) and SD (Standard Deviation) in feet per second (fps) by a PACT Chronograph and accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups at 15 yards.
Temperature: 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Range Time

No doubt several of you are thinking that a range comparison between these two pistols is apples and oranges. I agree. I was not really comparing them to one another.

Pocket holsters are available from a number of sources, and are the most appropriate for these two small shooters, in my opinion. I included samples from DeSantis, Galco, Lou Alessi, Mitch Rosen and Sunrise Leather. However, if one were resigned to carrying the PM9 as a belt holster, there are holsters for such. I included the Pocket Protector and Stow-N-Go Inside The Pant Holster from Galco.

A new DeSantis pocket holster is the Super Fly, an evolution of their popular Nemesis. Made with a different rubberized tacky material exterior and slick interior, Super Fly also includes a pocket shield that attaches with Velcro and can be swapped from the right to left side to mask the outline of the holster and pistol in the pocket.

I tried each holster out during several range sessions and found they worked as expected. As for the pistols, the NAA .380ACP is a good point-and shoot pistol, and out to 7 yards using the sight system, I can place my shots in the ocular area. As distance increases, I can drop to the center of mass, and keep them there with regularity out to about 10 to 12 yards.

The PM9 can double the range of the NAA .380, stretching reliable body shots to 25 yards, and headshots to 10 to 12 yards. With both pistols, good trigger manipulation is critical.

Neither handgun malfunctioned throughout about 200 total rounds fired, 125 through the PM9 and 75 through the NAA. Their weight helps in recoil control, but eventually the battering will take its toll, so I concluded the shooting session before a flinch developed.

Final Notes

For those moments when my wife does everything in her power to minimize my armament, the Kahr’s size benefits over the full-size pistols usually dragging my pants down. I can wear it on my belt and conceal it deeper than a larger handgun. She’ll be happy, and I’ll feel prepared and the NAA .380 Guardian will fill that void in my pants pocket!