These have been uncertain times for the firearms industry with sales slumping since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. The bright spot for business has been the concealable handgun market. The best sellers have been compact striker-fired semiautos or those with an internal hammer chambered in 9mm. It is a fact that more Americans than ever are carrying handguns for self-defense, and the market has adjusted accordingly.
Smith & Wesson (S&W) helped initiate America’s interest in these types of handguns with its 2012 introduction of the M&P Shield. This class of 9mm compacts continues to evolve from that single-stack with each brand fighting to be recognized as the universal choice for concealed carry. Among the newest comes from S&W in its EZ series that was first introduced to Guns & Ammo’s staff as a .380 ACP model in late 2017. Publicly released in January 2018, the M&P380 Shield EZ has been well received, but most of us have had our fingers crossed for an EZ in 9mm.
The EZ series is not a me-too concept. It’s been difficult to find a defensive semiauto that is this easy for people of all ages and strength to manipulate and shoot. The EZ is arguably the best design for shooters with these concerns. It is easy to load, easy to rack, easy to manipulate safely and easy to shoot. The “EZ” nickname perfectly describes these models for the intended customer.
Not everyone who decides to purchase or carry a gun is an enthusiast. In the case of compact handguns, many purchase their first and only firearm. For a non-enthusiast, one of the primary drivers of firearm choice is safety. While many of us who carry and shoot handguns regularly are comfortable carrying a semiautomatic handgun having no manual safety and a round in the chamber, not everyone shares the same confidence. While many manufacturers have been hesitant to add optional manual safeties to their striker-fired handguns, S&W has been offering them for years.
The Shield EZ has several active and passive safeties to prevent an accidental discharge. There is an optional frame-mounted thumb safety lever that’s ambidextrous. This lever is well-located, intuitive and easy to engage or deactivate. The thumb safety does not lock the slide so the gun can be loaded with the safety engaged.
The second safety feature is one that has been eliminated on all but a few modern handguns: a grip safety. Grip safeties have been around since 1887 when they first appeared on the S&W Safety Hammerless revolver, also nicknamed the “Lemon Squeezer.” A grip safety also appeared in 1908 when John Browning integrated one to the backstrap of the Colt Vest Pocket pistol. The intent of the grip safety is to prevent the gun from firing unless the safety is intentionally deactivated with a proper grip. The Shield EZ in .380 ACP and 9mm both use a polymer grip safety lever on the pistol’s backstrap. It disengages as soon as the web of the hand presses against back of the grip. From our evaluation of both models, it is virtually impossible to grip the Shield EZ without actuating the long grip safety, which means that it doesn’t interfere with using the handgun. The presence of the safety is not something that we noticed when testing these pistols.
The Shield EZ also uses a passive internal mechanism to ensure that the striker does penetrate the firing pin hole unless the trigger is pulled. As the trigger is pulled, the transfer bar’s disconnector sweeps and pushes up on an interrupting safety plunger, only then allowing the firing pin to pass by it.
These handguns do not feature a magazine safety, which is a largely loathed feature among gun enthusiasts who are defensive minded.
On top of the slide is another passive safety device: the loaded chamber indicator. With a cartridge case in the chamber, the indicator protrudes above the slide as a visible and tactile reminder that there is a round in the chamber. Being a lever that can be touched, a the chamber’s status can be confirmed in complete darkness.
To Be EZ
“EZ” means that the pistol is easy to load. Hand most handguns to someone of small or weak stature, particularly someone with arthritic hands, and you’ll see them struggle to rack the slide fully. Trying to even load a semiauto handgun is a real issue to many, and some of those same Americans might be targeted by criminals for violent crime due to size, age, health or gender. Everyone deserves the right to self-preservation. For decades, the recommendation has been the revolver or even a pistol chambered in .380. However, with the introduction of the M&P9 Shield EZ, there is finally a semiautomatic option in 9mm that virtually everyone can physically handle.
The slide on the Shield EZ is so easy to manipulate that it often surprises someone who racks it for the first time. Making the Shield EZ in 9mm was a real achievement though that required significant engineering apart from the original .380. This is due to the fact that customers expect to run any load through it. Unfortunately for handgun makers, there is a long list of 9mm cartridges with different pressures and bullet weights ranging from Inceptor’s 65-grain ARX lead-free projectile to standard pressure, subsonic 147-grain bullets. S&W addressed this and came up with a unique recoil spring design and slide mass to run common defensive and target loads.
At the rear of the slide is aggressive scalloping and flares, or “wings,” to increase the cocking grip surface. One can firmly pinch or grasp the slide on the Shield EZ with no fear that your fingers will slide off before fully racking it. To test the real-world utility of this feature, I asked individuals of varying age and strength abilities to rack the slide; Everyone was able to do so.
Even the Shield EZ’s single-stack magazine was easy to load. On both sides are tabs that allows a shooter to push down on the follower with maximum leverage. Because it’s only a single stack magazine, the spring is also more easily compressed. One could argue for increased capacity, but that would require a more forceful magazine spring, which goes against the goals set out for engineering the EZ. It is the gun’s slim lines that give it its only real disadvantage in this growing category of compact 9mms. Due to the single-column mag, the M&P9 Shield EZ capacity is eight plus one in the chamber, if you desire. Other compacts are now offering 10 to 15 rounds of 9mm capacity, but they’re not as easy to load and rack as this Shield is either.
In order to be useful for self-defense, the Shield EZ has to be easy to shoot. Two things are required to make a handgun shootable: a good trigger and serviceable sights, and the Shield EZ has both. The sights are robust, made of steel and installed into dovetails making them drift adjustable for windage. They are quite visible with the front post with white dot measuring .135-inch wide, while the snag-free rear sports a .140-inch notch flanked by white dots. These are non-luminescent sights, so you might want to consider upgrading the sights for self-defense use.
The trigger was crisp rather than spongy as many striker-fired pistols tend to feel. Of course, the internal hammer helps keep trigger pull weight down and we measured a short single-stage draw that released the hammer after 4¼ pounds. There was little discernable creep. The trigger on the M&P9 Shield EZ felt lighter than measured. There is a molded overtravel stop behind it. Trigger reset was fairly short, and both tactile and audible.
Most controls on this handgun are ambidextrous or reversible including the magazine release, which can be configured for right- or left-hand use. The exceptions to this are the slide-stop and takedown levers, which are both located on the left side of the frame and cannot be relocated.
Notably, there is no need to pull the trigger to unload the Shield EZ, which could be considered yet another safety feature. To disassemble, the slide is locked to the rear and the takedown lever is rotated. The slide can then come forward and off the grip frame, which then allows you to remove the barrel and recoil-spring assembly. No further disassembly is required or recommended.
What has always impressed me about the Shield lineup has been the size. Shields have always struck a balance of being small enough to conceal, but large enough to shoot well. The barrel on the M&P9 Shied EZ measured 3.675-inches long, which puts the overall length at 6.7 inches. This handgun is also slim with a slide width of just under 1 inch. Unloaded it weighs 18½ ounces.
Pardon the Pun
Shooting the M&P9 Shield EZ was easy. Our first shots were hits. The comfortable, textured grip frame features a high cut at the back of the triggerguard, which allows for a high and secure grip on the gun. The combination of the grip and the short trigger reset made rapid follow-up shots a simple task. It was obvious that the M&P9 Shield EZ is a gun that will be easy for shooters with different experience levels to master.
Recoil and muzzle rise were a bit stout with defensive ammo such as SIG Sauer’s Elite 124-grain V-Crown load, but it wasn’t unmanageable or painful. In contrast, the 100-grain Hornady Critical Defense Lite was very pleasant to shoot and would be my recommendation for shooters who are shy about recoil. Winchester’s 147-grain load fits the bill for those who prefer more bullet weight in a self-defense load. Our sample’s mechanical accuracy potential at 25 yards was not exceptional compared to other defensive 9mm pistol on the market, but we found it more than adequate for its intended purpose. Running drills between 7 and 10 yards, it was no trouble to keep all of the shots grouped within in the A-Zone of a silhouette target.
The Smith & Wesson Shield has been on the short list of great carry guns since its introduction. With the addition of the Shield EZ series, this already excellent handgun design is even more attractive to a new segment of potential customers. For those looking for a compact, lightweight 9mm pistol that’s easy to load, easy to rack and shoot and loaded with safety features, the M&P9 Shield EZ is the pistol you’ve been asking for.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ Specs
- Type: Internal hammer fired, recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 3.67 in.
- Overall Length: 6.7 in.
- Height: 4.85 in.
- Weight: 1 lbs., 2.5 oz.
- Materials: Stainless steel (slide assy.); polymer (frame assy.)
- Finish: Armornite (slide); Matte black (polymer frame)
- Grip: M2.0 textured polymer, 18-degree angle
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 4 oz. (tested)
- Sights: Three white dot; post (front), drift adj. notch (rear)
- Safety: Manual lever; grip lever; firing pin block
- MSRP: $416
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 800-331-0852, smith-wesson.com