The Death of a Single Stack — Case Study: Honor Guard

When I jumped on the internet recently and clicked on the Honor Defense webpage, I felt a great disturbance in the force. I carried an Honor Guard for several years before I switched my EDC gun to a Hellcat. I’ve shot most sub-compact 9mms, and this one was—hands down—the best of the single stack pistols.

The Honor Guard is a very well thought out design.
The Honor Guard is a very well thought out single stack design.

So what has happened to Honor Defense? I’m still not sure. I asked around, and the only official word I can get is that “Honor Defense has ceased operations.” That doesn’t sound good—at least not for those of us who love this gun.

The elephants in the room… are not single-stacks.

The answer may not be as simple as we’d like.

In the last couple of years, the double-stack lineup has exploded. Ruger has one. The S & W M&P Shield Plus has made a splash. There are a lot of really compelling double-stack 9mms that are almost exactly the same size as the not-so-old single-stacks. This poses a dilemma for those of us who live in states with no magazine capacity restrictions. Why would you want a gun that holds only seven rounds when you could have one that holds eleven, or thirteen—or seventeen?

The answer presupposes that both guns are equal in every way except capacity. And this would be true for an older Smith & Wesson M&P Shield and the new Shield Plus. The Plus has a flat-faced trigger, too, but you see where I’m going…

The Honor Guard is small enough to conceal, but with exceptional control surfaces.
Small enough to conceal, but with exceptional control surfaces.

The Honor Guard doesn’t have a double-stack counterpart. It is similar in this context to the GLOCK 43—a gun that I find hard to love after running a Springfield Armory Hellcat.

If capacity is your first consideration, the Honor Guard loses. The Glock 43 loses. Every single stack loses. Game over. From Kahr to the venerable XD-S, single stacks are struggling.

But what about the Honor Guard’s extras?

There are other considerations besides capacity. For me, grip texture is paramount. I want to grab a gun and have my hand stick like Velcro. And the Honor Guard has the single best grip texture of any factory 9mm I’ve ever owned. No contest.

The Honor Guard's single stack grip texture is highly effective.
The Honor Guard’s grip texture is highly effective.

The texture reminds me of window screen. It wraps around the sides, front, and back of the grip. It also extends up the frame and in front of the trigger guard. There are robust slide serrations, too. Front and back. And top. For support-hand manipulation, the Honor Defense is versatile.

Add to this the steel sights, and you have even more manipulation options. The rear sight has a sharp ledge that gives a support hand something more to grip when dropping the slide. It also allows for one-handed manipulation on a belt, a boot, or even a table. That sight can grab almost anything and hold fast and they’re strong enough for you to push against.

While we’re talking sights…

I’m opinionated, I know—and I’m not about to apologize for it. And here’s an unpopular opinion. Sloped-front rear sights are bogus. I’ve reviewed hundreds of pistols in the last decade, literally, and never found one compelling reason for a ramped sight.

My favorite rear sight on an EDC pistol.
My favorite rear sight on an EDC pistol. The ramp is at the rear.

Some claim that they are “anti-snag.” But when you draw, when getting snagged would be bad, you are pulling away from the ramp. The ramp only comes into play when you are holstering the gun, which you never do in a hurry—ever. Not once.

For those keeping score, Springfield Armory has picked up on this and is using really functional read sights on most of their EDC builds now.

I’m off my soapbox. Let’s move to the Honor Guard’s actual sight picture. The sights, as I mentioned, are steel. The white dots of the rear sight are shielded by small wings that form an actual anti-snag ramp at the back of the gun. That’s genuine innovation.

And the front sight is a red dot. While it is hardly designed for target shooting, I find I can shoot this system better than most. The sight picture is easy to pick up and allows for very fast shot placement.

The Honor Guard.
The Honor Guard.

The Other Controls

With small EDC guns, I tend to privilege how the gun carries, shoots, and acts in my hand over the way it handles magazine changes. If this were a duty gun, that would be different, but statistics show very few magazine changes in defensive shooting scenarios. But it still matters.

Maybe more with a gun like this. The Honor Guard only holds seven rounds. The mag release button, though, is large enough to find and use. No complaints there. The slide release lever is much harder to use. I can reach it fine but can’t get enough downward pressure on the lined piece of steel.

I’ve trained enough with this gun to know that it isn’t an option for me. I ignore the slide release and drop the slide with my support hand.

The Guts

There’s a lot of steel in the Honor Guard. Inside, many of the moving parts are stainless: the backplate, striker block, striker housing, striker…. All good.

The serialized portion of the gun is a chassis. The frame is mostly polymer and comes with interchangeable backstraps.

As my Honor Guard has aged, I’ve picked up a bit of grit in the trigger. It may need a deep clean, but I doubt it. I’ve not been able to diagnose the problem. It isn’t a fatal flaw for an EDC gun, and I’ve had many factory guns that were worse—but it will likely be the first real issue I have to address with the gun.

The Magazines

Honor Guard mags are robust. They’re very similar to those of the Shield. The steel body is laser welded. I’ve seen them in blued steel and in stainless and have never had a malfunction related to a magazine.

Honor Guard single stack magazine
The Honor Guard’s mags are strikingly similar to the Shield’s (at least the old single-stack version), but they are not interchangeable.

The Drop-Safe Debate

I’ve reviewed this gun before—before it launched, after the launch—after a year of carrying it. In all that time, I’ve yet to find a real fault with it.

But Honor Defense ran into a public relations nightmare when word spread that the Honor Guard was failing home-spun drop tests. This came after a lawsuit was filed by a customer who dropped his gun. The gun fired and he was struck in the leg.

Honor Defense wasn’t the first to face this scrutiny. It hit the Sig P320. The standards for drop tests are clearly established, and gun companies make guns that pass those tests, even Honor Defense. Yet accidents still happen. Some don’t think the standards are stringent enough to protect against these possible accidents.

The issue, for Honor Defense, was a black eye. The company strengthened springs and extended the catch on the striker. They offered to upgrade guns for existing customers and upgraded all parts in the newer models.

For a new brand, though, this is hard to live down.

So what happened to Honor Defense?

Honor Guard single stack pistol, slide locked back, in front of target
I’m more accurate at speed with this gun than I am with any other EDC 9mm I own.

They ceased operations.

By the time the Honor Guard launched, the Beretta Nano and Springfield XD-S were already on the market, and the XD-S was insanely popular. The Glock 42 and 43 were not far behind. The Shield was kicking ass. And Walther, H&K, and others were all in the mix too. The field, as they say, was crowded. There were many single-stack 9mms in this size.

But Sig blew up the single-stack 9mm market with the P365. Every one of those single-stack guns looked pale in comparison. Taurus came on strong with the G2C (now G3C, G4C). Springfield killed it with the Hellcat. Now the Shield Plus and Ruger Max9 are in the mix.

What about “the thinnest” argument?

Remember that skinny elephant? If I put down two guns, almost identical, and one holds more rounds, which would you choose? I’ve spent time with numerous single-stack defenders. Often, their arguments come down to the width of the gun. “This (insert single-stack here) is more easily concealed than that (insert a double-stack here).”

Factual? Yes. True? Not always. There is a philosophical distinction between facts and truths. The grip of the new Shield Plus is about .10” of an inch wider than that of the Shield.  This is, factually, wider. Can anyone reading this come up with a scenario, though, where .10” of extra width is going to prevent you from concealing a gun? Ok—California. Anything else?

Single Stack?

I’m still of the considered opinion that the Honor Guard is the single-best single-stack sub-compact 9mm ever made. It fits in my hand perfectly and acts as an extension of my body. I can control it under every circumstance I’ve devised to throw its way. It is damn-near perfect.

Honor Defense Honor Guardsingle stack muzzle flip
The grip allows for extraordinary control over the Honor Guard. As this image shows, the muzzle flip is almost nothing.

Diehards, like myself, still want one. I still carry mine.

Honor Guards are still available. I still take new shooters to the range and will include the Honor Guard in the guns to teach them with.

At the end of the day, these jokers were brilliant and affordable. A new gun sold for under $400. There’s one sitting at my FFL, though, that is just collecting dust, even though it is $250.

Are all of the single-stacks going to face the same fate?

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife's tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

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