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&P380 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&P380 Bodyguard has filled the role of the 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&P380 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&P380 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 a thumb safety.
The "EZ" in the M&P380 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 the most reliably in this new pistol because they all work well.
Further, S&W made this pistol's single-stack magazine friendlier to load. It holds eight rounds and thanks to a serrated tab that protrudes from the left side of the magazine, anyone — even those with physical dexterity or strength concerns — will find that this magazine is easier to load than others. The tab assit lowers the follower akin to loading the magazines from popular rimfires such as the M&P22.
The follower is molded in bright orange, which is clearly visible through the ejection port when the ammunition supply runs out.
An easily overlooked detail of the M&P380 Shield are the wings at the rear of the slide. They almost blend in with the pattern of serrations but they protrude a quarter-inch from the slide. However, this is enough material that allows a shooter to grab the wings and rack the slide like a slingshot to overcome the force needed to load and put this pistol into service.
Another feature that was carried over from the M2.0 duty pistols is the rough texturing used on the grip. Though it is not as aggressive, we did find it tackier to hold. It's an excellent compromise that should impress shooters with weaker grips.
Then there's safety. Our test samples were complete with ambidextrous manual thumb safety levers and an additional grip safety that has been incorporated into the backstrap. Though reminiscent of the M1911 beavertail grip safety, the pivot point is at the bottom of the backstrap, instead. The safety disengages the internal hammer block the instant that you start to grip this pistol. While it is 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 only serves as part of the frame.
Like the full-size M&P M2.0 pistols, the M&P380 Shield EZ features a full metal frame that extends above the Picatinny rail. Like an M1911 and those full-size M&Ps, the 380's grip angle measures 18 degrees. Combined with the grip safety, it almost feels as though it's encouraging a high grip for better control.
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&P380 Shield EZ an afterthought. This pistol doesn't feel like it's torquing in your hand or wanting to flip out of it.
With a 4½-pound trigger pull and short reset, this pistol is quick handling and is very accurate.
That said, the M&P380 Shield appears capable of holding sub-2¼-inch groups from 25 yards making it one of the most accurate .380s G&A has tested.
Editor's Note: S&W sent a consumer advisory regarding the manual thumb safety's sensitivity to being activated while shooting high-recoiling ammunition. Pistols made prior to April 4, 2018, can be upgraded at no cost.