August 11, 2023
The landscape of America’s demand for firearms has changed notably since 2008 with each election cycle and public tragedy. Since then, we have seen an unprecedented influx of new shooters from all lifestyles and belief systems at the exact same time. Many longtime shooters have aged to the point where arthritis affects their ability to enjoy shooting, not to mention the increased number of those who contend with physical challenges. Awareness of this developing market created an interesting niche for pistols that are easy to shoot, carry and manipulate. The most recent trendsetter was from Smith & Wesson with its EZ series of pistols that was first reviewed in Guns & Ammo’s February 2020 issue.
Loading a magazine and racking the slide has been an issue for shooters with compromised dexterity since semiautos came into existence. The common answer was to put these shooters into a double-action revolver or a sub-caliber semiauto with a tip-up barrel. Double-action revolvers are often problematic for these shooters due to the long, heavy trigger pulls. The tip-up guns can be problematic because of the generally ineffective calibers: .22, .25 and .32. Smith & Wesson solved this with the EZ’s “easy-to-rack” slide and “easy-to-load” magazine. With the EZ9 and subsequent M&P 380 Shield EZ and .30 Super Carry models, any gun owner can now carry a pistol in a big-enough caliber and shoot it comfortably. These are small enough to conceal and feature a trigger that’s easy to reach and manipulate. The EZ is still an amazing lineup.
Though the EZ is still regarded as a success, it hasn’t gained as much of a following as a fighting pistol. At Smith & Wesson, that sales territory remained with the Shield and Shield Plus models. Those enjoy well-deserved reputations as capable fighting pistols due to their compact size and capacities that made them a more desirable for carry.
The promise of the S&W Equalizer is the combination of the EZ’s ease of use and the bet-your-life dependability of the Shield. Does it deliver? Or is this model superfluous?
Designing the Equalizer started with the polymer frame and Smith & Wesson’s new grip texture. I’ve found the texture to be among the best in the industry, and my colleagues at Guns & Ammo agree. It provides enough texture for a sure grip while not being so rough that it abrades concealing garments. The grip surrounds Shield Plus magazines with a circumference barely wider than a single-stack magazine. That means there are 10-round flush-fit magazines for restricted areas, as well as 13- and 15-round variants that sacrifice only a little concealability for increased control.
The Equalizer also features a Picatinny-spec rail on the dustcover. It’s design does a good job of accommodating any compact light or laser you prefer. Not shown, one sample I tested at the range also had a thumb safety (TS). While not as good feeling as a Model 1911 safety, it was executed better than most. Smith & Wesson learned several lessons during its refinement of the safety for the full-sized M&P M2.0 that appeared in 2017.
The triggerguard design was generously undercut at the rear, and the tang encourages the shooter to get one’s hand up high on the pistol. This is important because the frame also houses the grip safety, an element borrowed from the EZ line. I understand the grip safety was kept — to ensure the pistol is “drop safe” — but it does bring its own issues to the table. Many safety-conscious shooters love grip safeties, so there’s always a market. In fairness to S&W, the design was improved since the EZ9 and neither myself or the other people I work with had any grip safety malfunctions. (Actually, there were no malfunctions whatsoever!)
The firing system is an interesting concept. Rather than being striker-fired, the Equalizer carries an internal hammer-fired double action. Working the trigger is smooth, but the stroke is a little longer than typical striker-fired pistols; but it’s very manageable. The pull weight measured 5 pounds, 12 ounces, on my Wheeler trigger scale and the reset was perceptible. To add, there was little perceptible take-up and zero overtravel.
The 3.67-inch barrel is housed in a black slide with modern styling that’s treated with S&W’s proprietary Armornite nitride finish. It features pocket-milled serrations fore and aft that provide ample texture to work the slide manually. It also has a new optic cut that S&W indicates will allow multiple variations of micro red dots to mount directly to the slide. I attached a Crimson Trace CT RAD Micro because it’s what I had on the workbench. The CT RAD mated perfectly with the threaded holes in the optic cut.
The slide carries over several of the EZ improvements, too, such as the small wings at the rear to assist in grasping and the easy-rack capability that ensures folks of all hand capabilities will be able to run the gun. Included are a set of black, metal sights with basic white dots. The optic cut is deep enough to allow a co-witness with the sights, so it saves the extra expense of adding suppressor height sights.
Testing the Equalizer was a pleasure. The engineers at S&W did a great job in creating a micro-compact pistol that behaves like a larger pistol. Recoil was softer than several of the similar-sized 9mms I’ve recently shot, and it felt more like a push than a snap in my hands.
On steel, I ran the gun fast. Sub-.17 splits were doable. The trigger isn’t a match unit, but it was predictable the more I shot it.
At 25 yards from the bench, the Equalizer proved itself well, My best group was 2.7 inches using Federal’s Hydra-Shok Deep. Hornady’s Critical Defense load averaged the best through five-shot groups.
If you’ve been reluctant to buy a micro-compact in fear of them being a handful, consider S&W’s Equalizer.
Smith and Wesson Equalizer
- Type: Hammer fired (internal), recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 10+1 rds., 13+1 rds., or 15+1 rds.
- Overall Length: 6.75 in.
- Barrel Length: 3.67 in.
- Height: 4.5 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 6.9 oz.
- Finish: Armornite, black
- Safety: Grip; thumb safety (opt.)
- Sights: Three dot, U-notch; drift adj.
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 12 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $599
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 800-331-0852, smith-wesson.com
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine