Photos by Mark Fingar
The first striker-fired gun I owned was Smith & Wesson’s M&P Pro, a long slide in 9mm. The 5-inch-barreled pistol had features that I’d never experienced in a handgun before. Having only owned hammer-driven handguns up to that point, I found the striker-fired system simple to control and fast to shoot. The fact that it wasn’t an all-steel frame mattered little to me given my experience carrying an HK USP in .40 S&W in the past.
Today, there seems to be a worldwide love affair with striker-fired guns, and rightfully so. The fire-control system enables manufacturers to bring the bore height down low to the shooter’s hand. A low bore axis means less work for the shooter to manage recoil and muzzle flip. Strikers appeal to law enforcement agencies because recruits find it a lot easier to handle a trigger that pulls the same every time. Conventional double-actions like the 1990s-era, 3rd Generation Smiths require a long double-action pull followed by a much shorter single-action stroke. Civilians have come to appreciate striker-fired pistols, for similar reasons, too.
A Look Back
When released in 2012, the Smith & Wesson Shield took the market by storm. Demand was so high during the first couple of years that supply couldn’t keep up. As an M&P fan, I wanted a Shield. However, by the time a Shield became readily available, I had already shot several and lost interest in them.
To me, the grip was too short and slippery for such a snappy little pistol, so I looked to other single-stack strikers. Despite owning many full-sized M&P handguns, the first-generation Shield didn’t work for me. It wasn’t until the M&P Shield M2.0 hit gun stores in 2017 that I took a second look. With an enhanced trigger and improved rough-texture grips, the Shield M2.0 piqued my interest.
A Look Ahead
I jumped at the chance to review the latest Shield M2.0. This new-for-2019 model features a 4-inch barrel, is optics ready and comes from Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center.
I like the recent changes made to the M&P family, especially to the Shield line. What I wondered was, What do you get from a Performance Center gun?
The PC Difference
The rough-texture grip on the M2.0 Shield makes an enormous difference in control. The textured grip panels, as on all M2.0 pistols, elevate the previously light pebble-texture feel of the original. The M2.0 is still not overly aggressive, and the pattern helps to keeps your hand high in the backstrap while firing. The new gritty texture functions as it should.
The Shield M2.0 maintains the standard M&P articulated trigger design. The lower hinged part of the trigger acts like a trigger safety, one of three passive safeties on all M&P pistols. The trigger feels a little lighter and smoother than previous generations, too. This is credit to the Performance Center’s tuned action, which is more than just a revised sear. You’ll find trigger control is also improved by a tactile and audible reset that lets you know the trigger has returned to its forward position, allowing the next shot.
M&P 2.0 series pistol frames are different from the first generation’s. The M2.0 is reinforced with additional strength inside the dust cover to prevent flex. An extended, embedded stainless-steel chassis was engineered into the lower for steel-on-steel contact between the slide and frame. Since the introduction of the M2.0 series, these guns have proven themselves to last. The embedded stainless steel structure should ease any fear about frame flex.
In my opinion, the scaley cocking serrations at the front of the slide appear to be a waste of machine time and money. They are diminutive and in a location that precludes their practical use. If it cost me $30 against the purchase price of this pistol, I would have rather my money be spent on making the already decent sights even better.
Aiming the Shield
The M2.0 is available in a variety of configurations and calibers. Guns & Ammo received the new 4-inch model for this review. The Performance Center slide on our sample had also been machined for, and shipped with, a 4 MOA micro red dot. Smith & Wesson indicates that this sight was specifically designed for this gun. This slim package measured just under an inch wide and is perfect for concealment while offering those who want the red-dot option. (You could also rack the slide by leveraging the red dot.)
Sights on the Performance Center Shield M2.0 are HiViz’s fiber optics. These are better than standard white 3-dots, but they still leave something to be desired. With a green light tube up front and dual red tubes in the rear, they’re certainly bright under daylight. Unfortunately, in absence of ambient light, they might as well be black. I was a fan of fiber optic sights before attending a low-light shooting class, and I feel that quality tritium-powered night sights would benefit the Performance Center brand for customers like me.
I zeroed and tested accuracy with the red dot installed. Mounting the red dot sight was simple, as all tools, screws and a battery came with it. There is no on/off switch, making it foolproof so long as you keep up with changing the battery. At the range, I adjusted the red dot to co-witness with the fiber-optic sights.
Performance Center triggers are customarily tuned to be better than standard production guns. The M&P M2.0 series ships with excellent triggers. The Performance Center Shield trigger is advertised as being “tuned,” and it fires consistently after 5 pounds of pressure is applied. It is very carryable, but I didn’t find it to be much different from the standard Shield M2.0 trigger.
Overtravel is mitigated by a hump molded into the frame. The hump is standard on all Shield M2.0 frames. Unfortunately, there is no adjustment. Stacking .048-inch of tape between the rear of the trigger and the hump helped me with accuracy testing. However, defensive shooters won’t likely notice the minimal overtravel. The trigger pull was initially coarse, but firing a few hundred rounds seemed to smooth it out.
The PC Shield arrived with two steel magazines: one flush-fit seven rounder and one eight-round mag with finger extension. The magazines were easier to load than I remembered with earlier Shield models. I’ve seen many shooters struggle with inserting the last round into their magazines, but this wasn’t the case with the new Shield.
I fired two magazines totalling 15 rounds of practice ammunition offhand at 25 yards on a steel torso target. All hit their mark. Recoil management was easier with the M2.0 textured grip, also.
I was curious to see if I could shoot the Shield better with iron sights or the red dot. Whatever my misgivings about them in comparison to night sights, I found the HiViz sights just as accurate as the red dot in daylight firing at a variety of targets.
While I got the sort of groups you’d expect with a defensive pistol, I didn’t find it easy to use in bench testing. It seemed two shots of every-five-shot group tended to stray from the other three. The best groups were with the Barnes Tac-X 115-grain defensive load. Accuracy was remarkably more consistent, and I could not fathom why.
When the gun was locked, with the striker cocked and no round in the chamber, I could manually manipulate the muzzle end of the barrel in the slide. Compared to another manufacturer’s single-stack 9mm, this play seemed excessive. I shook the gun and the barrel rattled within the slide.
After accuracy testing was complete, I wanted to shoot the Shield hard and fast with the red dot sight. My intention was to see how easy it was to track and how quickly I could obtain accuracy. Rapid magazine dumps were simple at 25 yards on steel. I attribute this to the long slide’s weight and the grip.
This is a slender gun. Even with the red dot mounted, it’s a slim line pistol that could comfortably fit in a waistline for daily carry. I generally favor longer guns, and the 4-inch-slide model is one I prefer. I shoot and train with my carry guns, and a longer sight radius is faster to use and feeds my accuracy obsession.
There is no singular, magic pistol that everyone loves. The M&P line comes close, but when considering personal defense and carry guns, people need choices. Smith & Wesson offers a lot of choices. From barrel lengths to grip sizes, sight styles and manual safety options, they can meet almost anyone’s needs.
If you’re looking for a slimline, single-stack pistol that is optics ready, the Performance Center Shield may be for you. If you are looking for a Shield without red dot capability, you can save money by getting one without the pre-cut slide and red dot sight.
My advice is to visit a gun shop where you can handle all the single-stack carry pistols. If you can’t go the Performance Center route straight away, you could still get the M&P Shield M2.0. If the trigger isn’t good enough, save your pennies and upgrade the trigger and sights. A trigger kit from Apex Tactical, for example, will cost about $160. Trijicon HD XR sights cost near $175. By the time you add up these extras, you’ll find that Smith & Wesson put a lot of value into their Performance Center lineup with very little of that extra cost passed on to us.