Do you struggle to pull the slide back on a pistol? Is it painful to shoot small guns? Are magazines tough to load?
If these questions apply to you, Smith & Wesson now offers an excellent solution with its new Shield variant, and it should be well received among an underserved segment of gun owners.
Meet the new M&P 380 Shield EZ. The long name is like an acronym that intends to convey what consumers need to know about it. The pistol is part of the M&P family that has been on duty since 2006. However, as we’ve learned in the last decade, you don’t need to wear a uniform to appreciate the qualities of S&W’s polymer-framed pistols. Still, we benefit from the durability that these pistols and rifles do offer.
Next is the caliber. If you’re familiar with the Shield, we have known it to be chambered in 9mm, and more recently in .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The M&P 380 Bodyguard has filled the roll of subcompact semiautomatic successfully for many years, which is why no one saw this latest introduction coming.
As a primary duty pistol, many will argue against the .380’s effectiveness as a primary pistol, which has helped advance the interest in recent years for carry pistols in 9mm. Still, the 9mm has not replaced the .380, which means that a significant number of shooters and gun owners still prefer the light-recoiling qualities of a .380-chambered handgun.
Ammunition manufacturers have responded in kind with self-defense loads that make the .380 much more viable for personal protection than it once was when we were limited by ball ammunition and poorly constructed jacketed hollowpoints (JHPs). There are even loads designed specifically for the energy necessary for reliable blowback operation that all but eliminates malfunctions.
The name Shield tells us the size and proportions of this pistol. Our measurements put the M&P 380 Shield a little larger with an overall length of 6.64 inches and 4.98 inches in height, with a width of 1.43 inches. It would measure 1.15 inches if you omitted the width added by the ambidextrous manual safety levers. By comparison, the last M&P9 Shield M2.0 with a thumb safety that Guns & Ammo had on hand for testing measured 6.1 inches in overall length, was 4.6 inches tall and was only 1.03 inches wide. The thumb safety on the M&P 380 is obviously larger than the standard Shield’s and mimics the serrated ledges of the ambidextrous safety levers found on the full-size M&P models with thumb safety.
The “EZ” in the M&P 380 Shield’s model name indicates that this is easy to rack — very easy. That’s partly because it is a pistol with an internal hammer system. Just because it has a hammer system doesn’t translate to a slide that’s easier to make ready. We found that the hammer assembly was positioned lower into the frame, so the slide has more leverage on cocking the internal hammer. When the slide must cock a hammer with a pivot point that’s positioned higher to the slide’s base, more force is required to overcome the mainspring’s resistance to the hammer being cocked. (Very clever.)
Engineers also optimized the slide mass and the recoil spring to work with the greatest number of loads currently available for the .380. This means that you don’t have to worry about which load runs most reliably in this new pistol because they all work.
Further, S&W made this pistol’s single-stack magazine easier to load, as well. It holds eight rounds of .380, and because of a serrated tab that protrudes from the left side of the magazine, anyone — even those with physical dexterity or strength concerns — will find this magazine is easier to load than others. As you’re feeding the cartridges into the magazine one at a time, use your thumb to press down on the tab to assist in lowering the follower. It’s akin to loading the magazines on a rimfire pistol (or the M&P22 magazine).
The follower is molded in a bright orange, which is clearly visible through the ejection port. When the ammunition supply has run out, you can instantly verify the status of this pistol’s magazine.
An easily overlooked detail to the M&P 380 Shield is the wings at the rear of the slide. They almost blend with the pattern of serrations now offered with M2.0 pistols, only the last quarter-inch of the slide protrudes wider than the width of the rest of the slide. (However, the wings do not protrude any wider than the polymer frame.) Grabbing the wings and racking the slide like a slingshot gives a shooter tactile leverage, which aids in overcoming the force that this pistol is to operate.
Other M2.0 features include the rough texturing. Though it’s patterned off the texturing introduced on the M2.0 duty pistols, it is not as aggressive. Yet, we found that it is tackier to grip than the original M&P Shield models. It’s an excellent compromise that should please most the market that this pistol intends to serve.
Then there’s safety. Our test samples were complete with manual safety features that include ambidextrous thumb safety levers. Additionally, a passive grip safety has been added to the backstrap. Though reminiscent of the M1911 beavertail grip safety, this one is not. In fact, the pivot point is at the bottom of the backstrap and it disengages the internal hammer block the instant that you start to grip this pistol. Though it’s spring loaded and puts pressure against the web of your firing hand, it isn’t uncomfortable or irritating, and the beavertail that protects our hand is part of the frame.
Like an M1911 and those full-size M&Ps, this 380 Shield’s grip angle measures 18 degrees. Combined with the grip safety that almost feels as though it’s encouraging a high grip for better control, the combination of features makes this M&P 380 Shield easy to run fast and accurately.
Regardless of your physical capability, the .380 chambering combined with the specially designed slide assembly and larger frame than the original Shield and Bodyguard models make recoil management of the M&P 380 Shield an afterthought. This pistol doesn’t feel like it’s torqueing in your hand or wanting to flip out of it.
With a 4½-pound trigger pull and short reset, this pistol is quick and very accurate. At the time of this writing, Guns & Ammo is still testing the performance of this model for an upcoming print issue. That said, the M&P 380 Shield appears capable of holding sub-2¼ inch groups from 25 yards making it one of the most accurate .380s G&A has ever tested.
Visit www.smith-wesson.com to learn more.