Gun Review: STI Guardian 9mm 2011

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My newfound love affair with the 9mm 1911 recently landed me an STI Guardian double stack 2011. In previous reviews, I’ve gone over the benefits of why I’m liking the 9mm in the 1911. They draw fast, point fast and shoot fast, accurately. When I reviewed the veritable bullet-powered sewing machine that is the STI Tactical DS, I considered switching from carrying my single stack .45ACP 1911 EDC to that gun. Alas, the light weight of my aluminum framed 4″ gun won out for ease of carry and concealability. The answer to that? The STI Guardian . . .

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The original 1911 Guardian was a traditional single stack not-quite-4″-barreled Officer-framed gun designed for concealed carry. The new Guardian ups the round count, putting a similar sized slide on a shortened 2011 double stack frame. STI uses a lightweight aluminum Cerakoted frame that’s narrowed and shortened. A slick stainless steel slide sporting a 3.9 inch bull barrel sits on top. The thumb safety is sold as single side only.

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The top of the Guardian’s slide has only rear cocking serrations. They’re plenty deep, providing all the real estate I need to manipulate the slide, right- or left-handed. The top of the Guardian’s slide is also flattened, a feature I’d to see on every handgun ever. A flat top makes the sights stand out so much faster than a rounded slide; I immediately notice the difference in guns cut this way. The Guardian weighs 25 ounces, which seems light, but heavies-up fast when loaded to its 15-round magazine capacity.

Even thought the Guardian’s frame looks wider than a double-stack gun, there’s only 1/4″ inch more diameter compared to a single stack. Thanks to the magic of the integral grip, it doesn’t feel wider. I shoot the double stack 2011s with exactly the same grip, and equally comfortably, as I do the traditional single stack 1911s.

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Then again, I have fairly large hands (take that, Trump!). Testing it with people who have smaller hands yielded very different results. I asked a few people at a public range to give the Guardian a try. Almost everyone liked it. A small statured woman of about 5’2″ weighing maybe 120 pounds was able to reach either the thumb safety or the magazine disconnect, but not both. Not the gun for her, or others with small hands.

The Guardian comes with STI’s Tactical Adjustable Sight (TAS) for the rear and a white dot front. The TAS rear is bomb proof and snag free. That’s great, but it’s really snag free. As in, I can’t use it to catch on a pocket or my belt to rack the gun one-handed if I had to. I could do this with the front sight, but it’s pretty difficult and requires more fine motor control that I’m likely to have when things have gone poorly and I’m bleeding and stupid.

The Guardian’s sights are bright and easy to pick up in the day. I had no problem staying aware of the front sight during the minimal recoil. But they’re no tritium and there isn’t a rail for a light. That leaves the Guardian at a disadvantage during night fire, where I’m most likely to need the weapon. The first, perhaps only thing I’d do to the gun: swap the stock sights for a pair of Heine Straight 8’s…after picking up a couple of spare magazines (the Guardian ships with just one).

STI says they set the trigger for a four pound pull. I’d like it a tad lighter. (I prefer a light trigger even on my carry gun.) Regardless of the weight, like every STI trigger I’ve tried, it breaks crisply and cleanly with a positive reset that lets you know exactly where it is, and in very short order.

If I want to get really picky — and at this price point, I do — I don’t like the feel of the 2011 frame’s thumb safety. I never failed to quickly engage or disengage it. I never had to wonder if I had done so or had to look at the gun to check. But the slightly larger safety on my Colt or STI single stacks just feel like they have a more definite on and off stop point, and my thumb rides on them more comfortably. It may be that I’m just more used to those safeties and I’d think the opposite if I were more used to the 2011 style.

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Looking for an OWB holster for the Guardian, I tried the STI Guardian in my SIG SAUER Legion P229 holster. It actually fit quite well, sitting all the way in, but without much retention. That made me realize how close in dimensions the 2011 Guardian is to the P229.

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STI Guardian nestled in the SIG P229 Legion’s case.

As the Legion is only four ounces heavier than the Guardian, I thought it would be fun to run them against each other and see how my Legion, which costs about $400 less, performed against its competition. I wish I hadn’t . . .

The STI Guardian was as boringly reliable as the other STI’s I’ve reviewed. After throwing some CLP in it, I shot the ubiquitous Winchester white box FMJ, as well as Team Never Quit’s frangible training round and their 100-grain hollow point defense cartridge. I shot sitting, standing, walking, and from the much-hated prone position. I got the gun dirty, got the gun muddy, never cleaned it, and it just shot and shot.

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I put a total of 620 rounds through the STI Guardian over three days and experienced zero malfunctions of any kind. I wish the same could be said for my Legion P229. Starting around 300 rounds in, I had consistent failures to eject, using any ammunition and the three supplied factory magazines. After cleaning the gun I tried again. Once the gun got dirty…same problem. The Legion also fails to lock back on an empty magazine about every 10 magazines or so. Considering this is the gun that I actually own, a gun I was considering as a 9mm EDC, that’s disappointing.

The Guardian’s accuracy was very good, scoring regular 2″ and 2 1/2″ five-shot groups at 25 yards from a bag. I had to kneel for these shots instead of sitting, so it’s possible my accuracy testing could have been a little better. A year ago I would have thought this was great. Since I started reviewing guns for TTAG, I’ve revised my expectations. The current gold standard: a .45ACP 1911 from Bill’s Custom Automatics. While that’s a $6,000 pistol, its 3/4″ groups set the bar for great accuracy. Keep that in mind when I say the Guardian’s groups are very good.

Also note: the Guardian is a sub-4″ barreled light officer framed gun. So perhaps it’s better to say that the STI’s accuracy is very, very good. Shooting it off the same rest in the same position on the same range with the same rounds as the Legion, the Guardian’s groups were consistently 1/2″ better. Which means my Legion shoots pretty well as it is, just not as well.

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I bought that SIG because it feels so great in my hand and my split times are outstanding. I ran the Legion and Guardian side-by-side with a timer. I was happy (relieved?) to see that with the Guardian, I was right about at the Legion’s speed. I was pretty consistent with .20 times between shots on my controlled pairs, firing on a 19″ silhouette at 25 yards. I could match that with the lighter weight Guardian, but I couldn’t beat it.

Where I could beat it every time: on my total draw and fire time. The Guardian was anywhere from .49 to .70 faster than the Legion. It’s not the draw or the sight alignment. The difference was down to the SIG’s initial 10 lb. double action first trigger pull, which led to my inconsistency and overall slower times.

While OWB shooting is fine for testing, a key to this carry gun’s real world performance is concealability. Having concealed its big brother (the STI Tactical DS), I had no doubt this one would be at least as stealthy. As this is thetruthaboutguns.com not probablythetruthaboutguns.com, I tucked the Guardian in an El Paso Saddlery IWB holster and spent a couple of days carrying it.

On one of those days I taught the trauma management portion in a law enforcement active shooter scenario class. I spent about four hours working with students in a fairly physical class, working with role-playing patients on the ground. Wearing regular pants and a untucked polo shirt, no one knew I was carrying. How do I know? Mostly because I asked, and also by the general shock when I drew during part of the scenario. If people can stare at you for four hours without noticing, it’s concealed.

In short, the STI Guardian is a pricey piece that does everything you need a carry gun to do: it feels comfortable in the hand (depending on your hand size), shoots accurately, quickly and reliably, and conceals easily. If STI included a couple of spare mags, you might even say it’s a bargain. Well, I would.

SPECIFICATIONS: STI Guardian

  • Barrel- 3.90 inch bull
  • Caliber – 9X19mm
  •  Finish- Cerakote Frame / Stainless Slide
  •  Magazines- 1ea / 120mm (15 rounds in 9mm)
  •  Trigger- 4-5lbs
  •  Sights- TAS Rear w/ White Dots Front / Rear
  •  Grips- 2011 VIP, black color
  • Single Side Safety Lever
  • Weight -25oz empty
  • MSRP $1,899

Ratings (out of fiver stars):

Style * * * *
I don’t think any 2011 gun is going to match the lines of the 1911, and I’m not a huge fan of a bright slide on an EDC gun. But the Guardian’s finish is nicely done, without tool marks or other blemishes.

Customize This  * * * * *
This is an extremely customizable platform. Change the sights, change the trigger, add a magazine well, change magazine base pads and magazine lengths, it goes on and on. All it takes is imagination. And money.

Reliability * * * * *
I put 620 rounds of mixed ammunition through this gun over three days with zero malfunctions of any kind, and it still shot good groups. I never cleaned it and it got filthy dirty.

Accuracy * * * *
The gun shot extremely well with a variety of ammunition. For a sub-4″ officer-framed gun, the Guardian’s accuracy is outstanding.

Overall * * * * 1/2
Largely because of its light weight, the Guardian isn’t quite the bullet hose that the heavier STI Tactical DS is, but it offers 15 rounds of reliable, accurate, concealable speed in a familiar platform. Half a star deducted for the not-night-sights and only one magazine shipped.

comments

  1. avatar Tex300BLK says:

    Wow! Must have, they don’t make one that is priced for poor people by any chance do they?

    1. avatar Anon in CT says:

      If you need to ask, you can’t afford it.

      https://youtu.be/feKbhuZIeBk?t=1m53s

    2. avatar Stinkeye says:

      I don’t think STI makes anything that’s priced for poor people…

      1. avatar Tex300BLK says:

        Their Spartan series 1911s were competitively priced with entry level Springfields and were way nicer, they replaced those with the Trojan though which is for reasons unknown to me nearly $500 more expensive (that last part was a bit misleading I am well aware that the Trojan is 100% built in house and the Spartan used oversized frames and slides that were outsource and then finish machines and hand fit in house, but the end result was identical from the standpoint of function fit and finish.)

        1. I think it’s forged vs cast.

    3. avatar Michael D Moultis says:

      STI Ranger 9 mm, retails for around $900 bills, very accurate, excellent sights, great edc gun. Sold my Kimber to get one.

  2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    That’s a pretty reasonable price for an STI.
    I’m also a huge 1911 fan.
    (And that photo of dirty guns, empty boxes and piles of brass = good times)

  3. avatar M3M9 says:

    I just can’t see spending almost $2K on a gun that seems to be about as good as any of the offerings in the $500 to $800 range.

  4. avatar Joseph says:

    For that money I can buy a Glock 19 and 1,000 rounds of ammunition and have about a grand left over.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      But then you wouldn’t have an STI Guardian.

      1. avatar ReadMore says:

        RF wins today! Hahaha

      2. avatar JasonM says:

        He could if he used his Glock the right (i.e. wrong) way!

  5. avatar Accur81 says:

    Thanks for the review.

    It’s a bummer to hear that the Legion jammed. My Sig 226 and 227 have been very reliable. Then again I usually clean my guns after 200-300 rounds, and usually clean them before I take them shooting for the first time. I also get the impression the Winchester White Box factory ammo also tends to choke up guns.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      Winchester White Box makes everything choke.

      Except Glocks. You could load a Glock with range brass stuffed with horse dung and it would fire. Because Glock.

      1. avatar Kendahl says:

        White box .45 FMJ RN goes through my Gold Cup like sh!t through a goose.

  6. avatar Tim Thompson says:

    Thanks for the mention JWT. Glad to know I’m still above the cut line ! Good article !

  7. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

    It may be because I am cross eyed dominant but I have the opposite experience with flat vs rounded slide designs. With the smooth round edges of standard JMB or Beretta design I can sight the barrel and know that I am pointing at the target. With the flat tops on my Springfields I can sense my eyes drifting and my accuracy declining. I am normally 100% on target in the 15-20 yard range with a rounded slide but my hit count falls off sharply with the modern plastic flat top to the point where I am happy if I hit Ivan half the time at 25 yards.

  8. avatar Bob says:

    “Starting around 300 rounds in, I had consistent failures to eject, using any ammunition and the three supplied factory magazines. After cleaning the gun I tried again. Once the gun got dirty…same problem. The Legion also fails to lock back on an empty magazine about every 10 magazines or so.”

    So that’s what that “challenge coin” that comes with the Legion is for. Throwing it at your assailant when your “Legion” malfunctions.

    1. avatar Accur81 says:

      Any DGU with over 300 rounds and you’d be buggered!

      1. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

        I have a simple critetion for a carry gun’s reliability. 100% proper function with three magazines 100% time in a clean gun. If you need more you are in either in combat or dead.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          I’m still disappointed on seeing a P229 choke. I’ve done some fairly stupid things with my M11A1 and it still runs like a swiss clock. If my gun started doing that, I’d tear the sucker down and find out what’s going on. Then me and the manufacturer would be having choice words.

    2. avatar Mortdecai says:

      Last 2 Sig Sauers I bought were both garbage. 1911 Scorpion would not feed, sent it back twice, same problem. Sig P320, would not extract. Went back three times. Sig said nothing was wrong with the gun. I got rid of both of them and I won’t buy another. Their customer service was snotty with me on the phone to boot.

  9. avatar Harry says:

    The 5′ 2″ lady had trouble reaching “the magazine disconnect?” Do you mean the mag release? If so, I can’t reach that and the thumb safety at the same time either, having only the one thumb on my right hand. Or are you saying she couldn’t depress the grip safety and reach the thumb safety at the same time? Look, dude, I try not to be a pedant over relatively minor things like “magazine” versus “clip,” at least when it’s clear what somebody means, but you’re not even making sense here. Learn guns, then come tell us about them.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      See my response to JasonM below.

  10. avatar JasonM says:

    A small statured woman of about 5’2″ weighing maybe 120 pounds was able to reach either the thumb safety or the magazine disconnect, but not both.
    Do you mean slide lock?

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      No, I mean she can hold the pistol in a good high grip and be able to reach the thumb safety or she can hold it in a low grip and reach the button to drop the magazine. But no single hand grip will allow her to do both. That’s her hand in the pic.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        The STI’s are a fat-bodied grip. They’re like the Glock 20 in 10mm: The grip size sometimes just takes it out of consideration for quite a few people.

    2. avatar peirsonb says:

      Probably either. In a “proper” shooting grip on my 1911 I can barely hit the slide lock, but have to adjust slightly to hit the mag release. And that thing looks massive by comparison.

  11. avatar Scott says:

    I can say with near 100% certainty that the failure of the SIG to lock back on an empty magazine is not a malfunction on the gun’s part. What is probably happening is that every now and then you are resting your thumb with it either on or just touching the slide lock. This happens all the time with people who are used to 1911s, because they like to rest their thumb on the safety, as you show. They then take this high thumb grip to the SIG, and rest their thumb on the slide lock, preventing it from activating. It’s all a function of the SIG having the slide lock as far back as they do. Some people don’t care for it for that reason, also because they expect the decocker and the slide lock to be the reverse of how SIG does it, but that’s how SIGs are. So training and personal preference make a big deal. But in all the time I’ve had my SIG P225, I have only had that malfunction once, while others have had it on their first magazine out of it.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Doubtful my thumb was the reason for the failures to lock back as it occurs both right and left handed.

      1. avatar Scott says:

        Okay, then it sounds like something really is going wrong with the gun or magazines. I’d recommend talking to SIG, and also seeing if any particular magazines are associated with the problem. It’s just that the slide failing to lock back is a common issue, but I’ve never heard of it happening left-handed, and pretty much every case of it that I’ve heard of has been traced back to resting the thumb on the slide lock. Sad to hear that your SIG is having issues with it.

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          As I like to tell people: #1 issue with semi-autos is usually the magazine.

          It is where I look FIRST for failures to feed, failure of slide to lock back, etc. FTE, well, that’s usually another issue.

          This is another reason I recommend revolvers for people who want a home defense gun with “low drama.”

  12. avatar pwrserge says:

    Ok, sorry to hear about the Legion issue… I’d go dig into that one, neither my M11A1 or my P229 Legion have had that problem, and that is most definitely not an issue with the design. Sounds like you need to get some warranty work done. (Damn it SIG, I though we covered this with the 556R fiasco.)

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      The P229 is an extremely well tested and reliable design. I’ve written before that I’m pretty much cursed when it comes to firearms reliablity. I’ll send this one in.

  13. avatar John E> says:

    Now compare that to the Dan Wesson Guardian in either .45 or 9mm and see how she stacks up. The DW is $400 less

    1. avatar Tex300BLK says:

      Double stack vs. single stack

    2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      STI has a fairly unique product in 1911’s.

      That said, the DW’s are, IMO, a nicer gun. But that’s my opinion…

  14. avatar Binder says:

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t get using a 1911 for self defense carry gun. Do this simple test. Put snap caps in it and have a friend gab your strong arm with just a little force. Then try and to draw and fire. Not only do you need to get the safety off , if your gip is bad no click. Don’t get me wrong, I love 1911s, and have one for a home defense gun, but for carry, you really need to think.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      Well, it weighs about two pounds, loaded. That adds enough ballast to prevent the bad guy from knocking you over. So there is that.

    2. avatar RANDY says:

      If someone gets the drop on you and you have a incapacitated strong arm then I hope you have been practicing with your off hand, because you will have problem operating anything. Not being able to grip or pull your gun, and disengage the safety even with your other hand, I am sorry, if you take a first hit that bad and have not cleared your holster you are probably out of the fight.

    3. avatar Accur81 says:

      If someone had their hands on my gun arm, I’d be kicking the groin like I was punting a football. Not sure how many foot pounds I could generate, but I’d be looking to compete with the popular handgun calipers. Anytime a bad guy touches a handgun is bad news – the grip and trigger guard can easily be used to break the trigger finger, magazine can be released, revolver cylinder can be stopped, slide can be pushed out of battery, etc.

      While I’m not a fan of manual safeties on carry guns, they’ve been in use for well over 100 years. I used a Smith 4006 duty gun for almost a decade that had a manual safety and a magazine disconnect and never had an issue.

  15. avatar Mike says:

    Which El Paso Saddlery IWB holster works with the STI Guardian 2011? Is it one designed for a P229 w/ rail? Or one designed for a Commander-length 1911? It seems the squared off trigger guard on the Guardian wouldn’t work with most 1911 holsters…

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