By Duane A. Daiker
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson’s 2012 arrival to the micro-sized 9 mm-pistol market was fashionably late, about a year after just about every pistol company in the gun industry put out a pocketable 9mm. But while most of the competitors pared down their 9mm pocket gun, Smith & Wesson managed to keep most of the features of the full sized M&P, and this proved to be an instant hit with the army of M&P enthusiasts out there. It made perfect sense to retain as much of the M&P design as a micro-sized pistol would permit, but that took more time, and it was a tough judgement call for Smith & Wesson to debut the Shield at SHOT Show 2012 instead of 2011 when so many pocket 9mm pistols were released. A year even later now, just coming out of SHOT Show 2013, it seems to have paid off for Smith & Wesson. The Shield has been for the most part sold out since its introduction a year ago, and now with some serious range time on the guns, the Shield has shown to be very accurate and reliable. It is also one of the few striker pistols on the market with a manual thumb safety, which almost puts the gun in a category by itself.
Small Gun, Big Features
The M&P9 Shield is a single-stack pistol that weighs about 19 ounces empty, and 24 ounces fully loaded with 7+1 rounds. It has a 3.1-inch barrel with five-groove rifling and a 1-in-18.75-inch rate of twist. The test pistol was chambered in 9 mm, although a .40 S&W model is also available.
It has roughly the same dimensions as the Ruger LC9 or the Kel-Tec PF-9, about 6 inches long and 4.5 inches high. This is larger than most .380 ACP pistols, but still small for a handgun in a serious self-defense caliber. Put simply, the Shield is not quite small enough to be a true pocket gun for most people, but it is well suited for deep concealment just about anywhere else.
This little M&P pistol is a striker-fired double-action like its full-size counterparts. Despite its shrunken state, the Shield retains all the standard pistol controls. Unlike the full-size M&P, however, the magazine release is not reversible and the thumb safety is not ambidextrous. The external levers are flattened and reduced in size to keep the gun thin and streamlined. In fact, the Shield is very slim, measuring slightly less than 1 inch wide.
Interestingly, Smith & Wesson opted to equip all the Shield pistols with a manual thumb safety. The larger M&P pistols have an optional ambidextrous thumb safety, but the vast majority are sold without safety levers.
There is some debate about the wisdom of manual safeties on striker-fired self-defense pistols like this one. With a 7-pound trigger pull and a trigger safety, the Shield probably doesn’t need an additional manual safety. You could just not use the safety lever at all, but that leads to concerns that it could accidentally be activated. The thumb safety is the one feature the Shield could probably do without.
Smith & Wesson wisely opted to stick with high-end materials for the Shield, with a stainless steel slide and barrel finished in black Melonite for maximum corrosion resistance. Even the three-white-dot fixed sights are crafted from stainless steel, not polymer like some of the Shield’s competitors.
Each pistol is shipped with two magazines. One is a flush-fit, seven-round magazine, and the other is an extended eight-round magazine. The shorter version works very well for concealment, but the eight-round magazine provides just enough extra grip length for most shooters to really wrap their hands around the pistol. Getting two magazines with the purchase of the gun is a nice touch. The smaller magazine is great for carry, with the extended magazine hidden somewhere for a reload, if necessary.
Disassembly of the Shield is easy, and follows the same procedure as the full-size guns. Smith & Wesson’s takedown procedure requires manipulation of a sear-release lever in the mag well prior to rotating the takedown lever and removing the slide. No tools are required. While it involves an extra step when compared to most polymer pistols, it would be almost impossible to accidentally disassemble a loaded pistol, so the safety factor is improved.
Carrying the Shield
Although somewhat large for pocket carry, there are those who will be comfortable in doing so. During the course of testing, a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster worked fine when the right attire was selected. Smaller people, however, may have problems stuffing the Shield into a typical front pants pocket.
Most people will prefer some type of belt carry for the Shield. The small size of the pistol makes belt carry as easy as it gets. It was tested outside the waistband in a Galco Stinger belt holster, and inside the waistband in a DeSantis Cozy Partner holster. Supporting the diminutive Shield isn’t much of a challenge for either rig, and both worked exceptionally well for concealed carry. However, there is no shortage of excellent holsters for this popular pistol.
The real test of a small pistol, of course, is at the range. Micro-sized guns are often difficult to handle, but the Shield’s performance defies its small size. Excellent ergonomics make this pistol very comfortable to shoot, even with hot defensive loads. The Shield has noticeable muzzle flip while shooting hot 9 mm self-defense ammo, but the perceived recoil is very mild. It was actually pleasant to shoot.
The accuracy of the Shield was even more impressive. At 7 to 10 yards, The X-ring of a standard NRA pistol target was drilled at will. Part of this accuracy can largely be attributed to the excellent trigger. While it is relatively heavy, the length of pull with resistance is quite short. Once you get past the initial take-up, the remaining trigger pull has a definite “glass rod” break, which most shooters prefer. The feel is a bit unusual, and it takes some familiarization, but it definitely contributes to the pistol’s excellent practical accuracy.
There were no problems with the Shield in the course of testing. The gun digested several hundred rounds of assorted brands of premium ammunition without a single stoppage. Only time will tell, but this pistol’s well established design and strong family history bodes well for its long-term performance.
The Shield rounds out the M&P line with a true micro-sized 9 mm that shares the same look, feel and manual of arms as the full-size pistols. The availability of the Shield may actually help sell full-size M&P pistols by “closing the gap” on a well-rounded pistol platform that now has full-size, sub-compact and micro-sized options.
Even if you don’t love the entire line of M&P pistols, the Shield promises to be a great gun on its own merits. Smith & Wesson is offering a high-quality single-stack 9 mm that performs as well or better than any pistol in its class for an MSRP of only $449. Street prices will be somewhat lower, and that translates to a real bargain for concealed carry. Of course, the company stands behind every pistol with its lifetime repair policy and its famed customer service.
The Shield is an excellent pistol, with the kind of performance that promises to make it a long-term success for Smith & Wesson. However, we’re hoping the company decides to offer a version without the thumb safety. The safety could certainly be ignored, but if the manual safety simply wasn’t there it would be the unqualified micro-sized 9 mm choice for many who carry.