February 01, 2023
By Brad Fitzpatrick
There’s fierce competition in the polymer frame pistol market, and with so many brand options it can be difficult to decide which 9mm carry gun is right for you. But one company that has consistently remained on top of the carry gun market is Smith & Wesson. If you want to know why, simply take a look at their new Equalizer NTS (No Thumb Safety) pistol. Based on decades of design and development and borrowing the best elements of S&W pistols of the past, the Equalizer might be the best 9mm carry gun available today.
A major part of what makes this gun so appealing is that it’s suitable for shooters of all skill levels and physical abilities. About a decade ago I was interviewing new shooters in a CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) class for an upcoming guide to concealed carry. One of the comments I heard over and over during those interviews was that many shooters lacked the hand strength to reliably cycle semiauto pistols. Most of those shooters were so put off by the struggle required to operate a semiauto slide that they turned to revolvers. It wasn’t just new shooters, either: experienced shooters with aging hands and arthritis said they couldn’t reliably operate most semiauto slides.
I heard these statements time and again, so I know gun manufacturers have, too. Smith & Wesson was the first manufacturer to directly address slide weight and develop a solution that made semiauto pistols more accessible to all shooters. Most modern semiauto pistols (including Smith & Wesson’s M&P 9 M2.0 family) are striker-fired, but the Equalizer features an internal hammer fired design. This allows for a lighter spring weight which, in turn, means lighter cycling. This technology was made popular by Smith & Wesson’s EZ pistols, and the Equalizer offers an advanced version of the original. What remains the same, however, is that the slide is considerably lighter to operate than a traditional striker or hammer-fired semiauto. Deep slide serrations and “ears” machined into the rear of the slide further assist with manipulation.
There are a lot of gimmicks in the gun world, but Smith & Wesson’s lightened slide functions as advertised. My aunt, who is fast approaching seventy and doesn’t have a lot of hand strength, was looking for a firearm for personal defense and her primary concern (like so many other shooters) was finding a semiauto that she could rack in a time of crisis. I advised her to buy a Smith & Wesson EZ, which she did, and she has been shooting it effectively ever since.
Today I’d suggest that she buy an Equalizer because it offers a long list of standard features that every gun owner will like. For starters, it comes with a slide that is cut for micro reflex sights. In addition to weaker hands, our eyes deteriorate as we age. With a reflex sight you can shoot accurately even when your ability to discern iron sights starts to diminish. It’s also a great setup for people like my wife (and an estimated 30% of the population) who are cross eye dominant. Cross dominance, which occurs when your strong hand and dominant eye are on different sides of your body, can make shooting iron sight difficult. A reflex sight simplifies the shooting process and offers a sighting reference in any light conditions. If you stick with iron sights, you’ll be pleased by what the Equalizer has to offer: the three-dot metal sights are rugged and highly visible, and the flat face on the rear sight allows for one-handed cycling.
Many shooters want a manual safety on their pistol. Many tactical experts, however, warn that a mechanical safety is an added complication that can cost you time during a violent encounter. Smith & Wesson offers a compromise with their grip safety. The safety prevents the gun from firing unless the shooter firmly grasps the pistol grip, but the passive design means that if you grip the gun properly, the safety is off without conscious operation. There’s also an open port on top of the chamber that allows you to inspect for a loaded cartridge.
This gun is designed for concealed carry, and with a maximum width of just .99 inches, an overall length of 6.75 inches and an unloaded weight of 22.9 ounces, this is a gun that can be concealed under light summer clothing. Despite its trim design, the Equalizer is comfortable to shoot, and the 18-degree grip with M2.0 microtexturing offers complete control over the pistol. The Equalizer is a soft-shooting gun, and its trigger is very smooth.
Concealed carry can damage guns. Constant exposure to moisture and salts in perspiration can eat away at metal, but the Equalizer’s Armornite nitride finish and polymer frame is about as close to bulletproof as any gun finish can be. Armornite also offers increased lubricity which allows this gun to be drawn quickly. Slide cuts further reduce weight and printing and make it easier to reholster the gun.
I prefer to have a light on my home defense guns, and the Equalizer’s underbarrel accessory rail makes it simple to securely mount a light or laser on this gun. The primary controls include a small slide stop, a reversible oval magazine release and a rotating takedown lever. Takedown is fast, simple, and safe, and field stripping the Equalizer for routine maintenance doesn’t require pulling the trigger.
Equalizer pistols come with a 3.675-inch Armornite treated barrel, and these guns ship with 10, 13, and 15 round magazines (where legal). In areas of the country with magazine restrictions, there are also compliant versions offering three 10-round magazines. That’s more capacity than competing single-stack pistols, and added capacity is always a bonus on a self-defense gun. Plus, Smith & Wesson includes an UpLula loader with each gun that simplifies magazine loading.
MSRP for the Equalizer is set at $599, which is an exceptional value considering the quality of this gun and its long list of amenities and features.
Testing the Equalizer
The included UpLula loader, lightened slide and recoil reducing grip make this a gun that’s suitable for new shooters, but it’s equally well-suited for those who shoot often and are familiar with firearms. The iron sights are tough and work well, but I took advantage of the optics curt on the slide and mounted a reflex sight on this gun. The optic combined with the pistol’s light slide and excellent ergonomics make this a gun you can draw quickly and fire accurately. The trigger pull is crisp and clean, and there were no issues with feeding, extraction, or ejection. The grip is well-designed and comfortable, but it accommodates large hands without being so big that it’s difficult to conceal. My wife and I both shot this gun on the range, and our sentiments were the same: the easy-to-operate Equalizer is a pistol that’s leading the pack for concealed carry 9mms.
Speaking of concealment, this gun is light and narrow and fits very close to the body. That means it rides comfortably and won’t print, so there’s no need to add extra layers of clothing to conceal the Equalizer. It stood up to the rigors of carry and, after several days being drawn, reholstered, and carried in an IWB holster it showed no signs of wear. Accuracy was outstanding, and this gun performs as well as anything in this class.
Smith & Wesson has been fine-tuning their polymer-frame carry pistols for decades, and all that knowledge is distilled into one gun with the Equalizer. Whether a new or experienced shooter, you’ll like this pistol.
Smith & Wesson Equalizer NTS Specifications
- Action Type: Internal hammer-fired semiauto
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Capacity: 10/13/15
- Barrel: 3.675 Inches
- Overall Length: 6.75 inches
- Height: 4.5 inches (no optic, flush-fit 10 rd mag)
- Width: 1.17 In
- Weight: 22.9 ounces (unloaded)
- Grips: Polymer
- Finish: Armornite
- Trigger: 5.5 lbs
- Sights: Three white dot, Drift adjustable rear, cut for micro reflex optics
- Price: $599
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, smith-wesson.com, (800) 331-0852
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