Smith & Wesson’s new M&P9 Shield now joins the growing crop of palm-size, slim-and-trim single-stack 9mms that have been appearing on the handgun market at a rapid rate over the past two years. It is the lightest and smallest 9mm personal-defense auto S&W has yet offered: only six inches long, 4½ inches high, less than an inch thick and weighing just 19 ounces. Based on the duty-proven full-size S&W M&P design, it will undoubtedly take a prominent place in the concealed carry world.
Moreover, the new Shield is also available chambered in .40 S&W. Same size, same weight, same design, same price (MSRP $449). The only difference between the M&P9 Shield and the M&P40 Shield, in fact, is that the magazines for the M&P40 Shield hold one less round than the M&P9 Shield magazines. The M&P9 Shield comes with one semi-staggered flat-base seven-round magazine and one extended-base eight-round mag; the M&P40 Shield comes with one six-rounder and one seven-round magazine.
Is That a Pistol in Your Pocket?
When it comes to personal defense pistols in general, I’m pretty much like everybody else. As much as I appreciate bigbore cartridge power and as familiar and adept as I may be with a full-size Model 1911 .45 ACP or 4-inch S&W .357 revolver, those are probably not what I’m gonna strap on my belt or tuck in my waistband when I need to leave the house late at night for a quick trip to the local convenience store.
In that situation (and in most daily-routine situations, actually) I’ll be dropping something lightweight, compact and unobtrusive into my pocket, something that’s nonetheless chambered for a cartridge with sufficient authority. Today, that’s most likely a small, polymer-frame DAO 9mm. The new M&P9 Shield hits that sweet spot exactly—although I will be giving the M&P40 Shield a very close look as well.
The Shield format is designed specifically for concealed carry, either in a compact, slim-line holster or a pocket or purse. It can serve either as a primary citizen-carry tool or a full-power, no-compromise backup for off-duty law enforcement officers. In mechanical design and operating features, it is simply a scaled-down version of S&W’s full-size, double-stack M&P duty/service pistols.
The only real difference between the larger M&Ps and the Shield—other than scale—is the Shield’s slimmer magazines and the fact that its grip does not feature interchangeable backstraps. But the much smaller Shield still has the larger M&P’s natural-pointing 18-degree grip angle and hand-fitting contour.
This is very important from a practical point of view. Consider the key differences between a pistol like the Shield and the many somewhat smaller .380 pistols of similar configuration that are also extremely popular these days. While I’m not disputing the effectiveness of modern .380 Auto personal defense ammunition, I much prefer the shootability of a pistol such as the 9mm Shield, simply because its grip is slightly larger and easier to grasp. It has to be, because the 9mm cartridge is slightly longer than the .380 Auto and requires a deeper grip frame and action cycle. In addition, the 9mm’s slightly sharper recoil requires more grasping surface (and weight) for controllability when firing.
In fact, the only problem I have at all with the various tiny .380 pistols on the market is that I have to think very carefully about how I initially grab hold of them if I want to be secure in rapid/repeat-fire situations. Slightly larger slim-line 9mm pistols such as the Shield go more naturally into my hand than a little .380 and are much more “grab and shoot” for me.
In size, the Shield actually comes about midway between pocket .380s and midsize double-stack pistols such as the M&P9 Compact and M&P40 Compact, but it is closer to the .380 and less obtrusive to carry than the compact double-stacks (which are essentially cut-down, full-size M&Ps).
Also important to the shootability issue is the fact that each Shield comes with both a flat-base magazine and an extended-base magazine that holds one additional round. The flat-base magazine provides a two-finger grip with the little finger wrapped under the base of the magazine. The extended-base magazine provides a full three-finger grip.
Most of the quality-made .380 pistols on the market are also offered with extended base-pad magazines as well, but the majority of them only provide a secure hook for the second finger rather than a full three-finger grasp. Even on ultra-concealable pistols, I prefer as much hand-to-pistol contact as I can get, and I have always found very little given away in practical concealment by the less than half-inch extra surface on a full three-finger-grip magazine base.
A final aspect of the M&P Shield pistol’s user-friendly shootability is its uniform short, crisp trigger pull, which again is the same mechanism as found on full-size M&Ps. Nominal trigger travel from rest is only .300 inch, and the reset stroke is only .140 inch. Nominal trigger pull weight is just 6½ pounds.
This is one of the best, shortest and most crisp DAO-type trigger pulls on the market, and it puts the Shield into the same “trigger feel” family as the Glock, the Taurus 709 Slim, the Springfield XD and XDM and the full-size S&W M&Ps themselves—much different than the long-stroke pull and long-reset designs found on many other compact 9mms and most ultra-small .380 DAOs.
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Mechanically, the M&P Shield pistols utilize a double-action-only, striker-fired, locked-breech (recoil-operated) action with a manual left-side (right-hand) thumb safety, internal self-engaging firing-pin block and articulated trigger safety block to prevent discharge if dropped. There is no magazine-disconnect safety, and M&P Shield pistols will still fire with their magazines removed. The semiauto mechanism features a dual captive recoil spring/guide rod module. The grip frame is Lightweight Zytel Polymer, and the barrel and slide are stainless steel with a satin black Melonite 68 HRc finish. The backstrap and frontstrap of the grip (along with the surface of the magazine-release button) are aggressively stippled for a secure grasp in rapid fire, and the magazine button has just enough height for positive engagement without overprotruding.
All edges, surfaces and corners on the M&P Shield pistols are beveled and rounded for ease of holstering, carrying and drawing. Barrel length on both the 9mm and .40 S&W versions is 3.1 inches.
M&P Shield pistols also have “true duty” low-profile three-dot sights and feature a large square rear notch for quick and easy alignment. Both front and rear sights are drift adjustable for windage, and the rear sight has a locking set screw for stability. The dovetail-mounted front sight allows use of different heights for varied ammunition types. (Personal experience note: At 50 feet the maximum displacement between POI/POA from popular and common 9mm 115-grain loads to 147-grain loads including +P is only about 2½ inches—hardly enough to matter in an up-close-and-personal crisis.)
Another advantage to the M&P Shield pistols compared with most diminutive .380 pistols (again, a personal view) is the fact that the slightly larger frame dimensions allow a design inclusion of a full-size slide lock and external slide-lock latch. I like knowing when my gun has shot to empty (I’m probably not counting rounds in an emergency situation), and I like being able to drop the slide on a fresh magazine with my firing hand still in position.
There is a loaded-chamber view port at the rear top of the chamber for visual confirmation that the chamber is charged. The M&P Shield’s heavy-duty external extractor design is also the same spec as full-size M&P pistols, again stronger than the extractors on many other ultra-compact pistols.
What’s Not to Like?
I first handled and fired an M&P9 Shield during a visit to the S&W factory last February while filming segments for “Guns & Ammo Television.” I was impressed by its controllability and comfort in firing and its quick-to-point accuracy. About a month later, back at PASA Park, I received a review-sample 9mm Shield and put it through my standard 50-foot carry-concealed accuracy and ballistic protocol (I see no reason to review small pistols of this type at any greater distance).
As I have found with other short-barrel 9mms, there was very little velocity loss in going to a 3.1-inch barrel from factory-standard 4-inch test barrels (thanks largely to state-of-the-art propellant technology). At a defense-distance 50 feet, the group averages with five different varieties of premium personal defense ammunition loads from 115-grain to 147-grain (including +P) all came in well under three inches—basically tennis-ball diameter.
And with both the standard flat-base magazine and the extended-base magazine I noticed no real difficulty in maintaining a secure grasp, though I still like the feel of the longer grip. I really wasn’t even aware of the recoil. Admittedly, I shoot small pistols quite a bit more than most people, but there are a lot of small 9mms (and even .380s) out there that are simply no fun to shoot.
Smith & Wesson fans who have been waiting impatiently for the company to join the growing ranks of ultracompact 9mm manufacturers no longer have to wait. And anybody in the market for a pistol this size for serious concealed carry defense needs to give both chamberings for the new Shield pistols a very close look.
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