September 17, 2021
On one hand, this is a story of an American firearm manufacturer upgrading its flagship self-protection pistol to better compete with the growing field of added-capacity micro carry pistols. First, it was the SIG Sauer P365 (2018), then the Springfield Armory Hellcat (2019), and recently the Ruger Max-9 (2021), and there are many other subcompact double-stacks. On the other hand, this article is like a journey home for me, a chance to reconnect with an old companion and to reflect on a decade spent shooting and writing.
Nearly 10 years ago, I was a fresh-faced assistant editor with a previously unused English degree and well-trained trigger finger, thanks to the U.S. Army. I was working on the NRA’s “American Rifleman” magazine and had just gotten my first big assignment. It was my job to head north to Springfield, Massachusetts, and find out what Smith & Wesson was up to with their “Shield” project. That was 2011.
S&W released the name of the new product prior to its 2012 SHOT Show launch, which kicked up a hornet’s nest of speculation in the online gun forums. I remember that guesses ranged from tactical shotguns to body armor. We now know that the Shield was a new subcompact pistol destined to redefine the personal protection firearms landscape.
Like many, I was impressed with the original M&P9 Shield. With a 3.1-inch barrel, 7- or 8-round capacity, and sub-1-inch width, it was easy to shoot and carry concealed. Its polymer frame offered weight savings over trim metal guns like the Commander- and Officer-frame Model 1911s. And its slim design allowed it to ride closer to the body and more comfortably than stalwart double-stacks such as the Glock 26.
The Shield wasn’t the first gun to follow this pattern, though. KelTec’s P-11, for example, which was produced from 1995 to 2019, predated the Shield. But Smith & Wesson had a more recognizable name, and a trusted brand in the M&P line. Most importantly, S&W enjoyed perfect timing.
The tide of .40 caliber was beginning to ebb in duty and defensive circles, and the resurgence of 9mm was set to commence. As well, the U.S. was experiencing a dramatic rise in interest and participation in civilian carry fueled by legal and legislative efforts to open more states and locales to armed citizens choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights. These, and certain other factors, allowed the M&P9 Shield to pioneer the market (and aftermarket) for subcompact defensive pistols, now termed by some as “micro compacts.”
I got in on the ground floor. I purchased the original evaluation model that I tested in 2011, which was sent to NRA from Smith & Wesson. That pistol became a trusted companion of mine and was carried every day for at least the next 5 years. I made some minor changes to the gun as I shot it more, trained with it, and pursued more information about armed personal defense. I sourced a HD night-sight set from Trijicon ($165, trijicon.com), and installed Apex Tactical Specialties’ Action Enhancement Kit and flat-faced trigger ($160, apextactical.com). I also added Talon Grip’s stick-on texturing ($20, talongungrips.com), which greatly improved purchase compared to the semi-smooth texture molded on original M&P models.
The launch of the Shield, and the enjoyment of being on the forefront of new ballistic introductions, hooked me on the outdoor industry. I vividly remember my first tour of S&W’s factory, something I’ve done several times since. It was, and is, hard not to be awed by the banks of computer-controlled machine stations working in concert with assembly cells, skilled gunsmiths and pre-modern manufacturing techniques. Most notably, I was impressed by the power of S&W’s two-story hammer forges that rhythmically pound red-hot metal blanks into revolver frames. It’s a sight you never forget.
Returning to the task at hand, nearly 10 years on, the landscape for personal protection firearms has continued to evolve. Nine-millimeter is hands down the predominant duty and self-defense cartridge, followed by .380 ACP in terms of popularity with armed citizens for concealed carry. The M&P9 Shield has adapted with various iterations of production and Performance Center editions, including new triggers and the improved M2.0 grip texture. The M&P9 Shield EZ pistols have also broadened the Shield’s appeal with grip safeties and easy-to-rack slides chambered for .380 or 9mm. Those have been another runaway, if unexpected, success. Smith & Wesson’s Shield not only created a new category, its evolution also ensured that both the gun and the company retained their position at the top.
Now, though, the landscape is shifting again. In fact, the new entrants from SIG Sauer and Springfield Armory have been dictating the tempo for the last two years. The Shield’s subcompact design was made possible by a single-stack magazine that allowed cartridges to stagger just enough to squeeze a seventh or eighth round into an approximately 4-inch body. The new breed of so-called “stack-and-a-halfs,” led by the P365 and Hellcat, offered flush-fit magazines holding 10 or 11 rounds and extended mags capable of holding up to 12 and 13 rounds, respectively. These awesome double-stack-single-feed magazines, incredibly, are only a touch wider than the single-stacks of similar size. It’s the advancement in magazine design that has allowed for near-full-size capacity in micro-compact pistols.
I’ve wondered, “When will Smith & Wesson respond?” That response has come. Introducing the M&P9 Shield Plus. S&W’s flagship carry pistol has been upgraded with 10- and 13-round plus-sized magazine capacity.
The M&P9 Shield Plus could be mistaken for a standard M2.0 Shield, so look for the mark on the slide at the gun counter and be sure to check the magazine capacity before you buy. It is virtually the same size, is identical in profile, and all the features and controls are familiar. Even in hand, if you hadn’t just been holding a single-stack Shield, you’d never notice the slight swell of the Shield Plus’ grip. It’s not until you remove and examine the magazine that the differences begin to appear obvious.
The stainless-steel, 3.1-inch barrel and slide assemblies are finished in Smith & Wesson’s proprietary Armornite finish, which is a little deeper black than the original Shield’s matte finish. The magazine wears a gloss black finish also, and its looks remind me of a tall, skinny house with a tapered chimney on top. The body is just wide enough to accommodate a tightly staggered dual column, and steep shoulders funnel the top two cartridges into a single column. A bright orange polymer follower keeps all the rounds in order and serves as a visible indicator that the magazine is empty when peering through the ejection port of a locked-open slide.
Two magazines ship with the Shield Plus, one a flush-fit 10 rounder, and the other a 13-round mag with an extended baseplate for added purchase. To my medium-size mitts, the Shield Plus’ frame has enough room to firmly anchor two support fingers; the extended magazine offers a spot for my pinky to climb aboard. Though some may prefer the flush-fit magazine for maximum concealment, in my Shield-carrying years I didn’t notice any additional printing from having the extended mag inserted, and I preferred it for the additional grip space and extra round. I carried the Shield with extended magazines, one in the gun and one in reserve. Once extra mags are available, I’d opt for the same loadout with the Shield Plus, for an on-body payload of 27 rounds of 9mm.
Another change in the Shield Plus is its flat-faced trigger. S&W suggests that this feature allows for more consistent finger placement. Yeah, maybe, but triggers are a personal preference. It is true, though, that flat triggers have been a popular aftermarket item, and many new production pistols are including them from the jump. The Shield Plus simply joins this trend.
My test gun’s trigger pull averaged 5 pounds, 6 ounces, which is not bad at all! There were a few hitches in the trigger’s giddy up during testing, but nothing major. I observed just a bit of grit in its travel, but experience tells me that new M&P triggers tend to clean up nicely after a few hundred rounds.
The Shield Plus’ enhanced grip texture is a nice compromise between the original M&P’s and the aggressive M2.0. It feels good, anchors the pistol in the hand and is not as abrasive as the latter when carried against the skin. Looking at the trigger and the texture, the similarities between the Shield Plus and my now-aftermarket-enhanced first-gen Shield are uncanny. The only upgrade lacking on the Shield Plus is improved sights.
The provided steel, dovetailed, white three-dot sights are certainly proven and capable. However, if S&W is reading this, let me remind you that it’s 2021; we can do better. There are plenty of options available for a do-it-yourself upgrade, but this is the one serious shortcoming of the Shield Plus compared to its competitors. The SIG Sauer P365, for example, includes its XRay3 night sights as standard. The Springfield Armory Hellcat also pairs a high-visability, tritium-powered front with a U-notch rear. The guns are all similarly priced, so there’s really no excuse here. There is also no provision for mounting a red-dot optic on the standard Shield Plus model, but this will likely be remedied in Performance Center offerings.
At The Range
The Shield Plus performed as expected — which is flawlessly. Accuracy was good, and there were no stoppages or malfunctions during my testing with a couple hundred rounds of 9mm. The lot of available ammo ranged from 115-grain ball to 150-grain Federal Syntech, but I also shot a healthy dose of mixed hollow points. To its credit, I think the Shield Plus may be the softest shooting of the new micro compacts. If you’ve felt that the existing sub-compact double stacks are snappy, you will likely feel that the M&P is, comparatively, really pleasant in hand.
Overall, I’m pleased with Smith & Wesson’s new M&P9 Shield Plus. It’s a great addition to the market and offers the enhanced capacity and utility that personal-defense practitioners have come to expect. For fans of American-made M&P pistols, including the trendsetting Shield lineup, the Shield Plus is sure to be a favorite. And for me, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to reunite with a familiar companion.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus
- Type: Recoil operated, striker fired, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 10+1 rds., 13+1 rds.
- Barrel: 3.1 in., stainless steel
- Overall Length: 6.1 in.
- Width: 1.1 in.
- Height: 4.6 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 3.7 oz.
- Finish: Armornite, black (stainless steel)
- Sights: Steel; three white dots
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 6 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $553
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, smith-wesson.com
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