The concealed carry scene is dominated by small guns that are capable performers, but there are often some basic sacrifices that come with small guns. For the most part, 380s are, small. Yet that is their only asset. The .380 round doesn’t compare favorably with larger calibers. Yet the relative size has made the .32 and .25 all but obsolete. Could it be that the new spate of 9mms will crush the .380? The new Smith & Wesson M&P Shield will help in the effort. This gun is a rock star.
Model: M&P9 Shield™
Frame Size: Compact
Action: Striker Fire
Capacity: 7 and 8 Round Magazines
Barrel Length: 3.1” (7.9 cm)
Front Sight: White Dot
Rear Sight: White 2-Dot
Trigger Pull: 6.5 lbs +/-
Overall Length: 6.1” (15.5 cm)
Frame Width: .95” (2.4 cm)
Overall Height: 4.6” (11.7 cm)
Weight: 19.0 oz. (523.7 g)
Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
Slide Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Material: Polymer
Finish: Black/Durable Corrosion Resistant
Let’s start with the basic appeal of the Shield. The Shield line is thin enough to conceal. The short length makes it easy to tuck and draw. The magazine holds either seven or eight rounds of 9mm, which gives it a leg up on comparably sized revolvers (and some of the semiautomatic competition). With the clean trigger and the utilitarian sights, the Shield shoots accurately. In all, the Shield is more than capable. The humble Smith & Wesson is underrated. Plain and simple.
The latest version has made a big leap forward for folks like me who don’t want a safety on a concealed carry gun. For the rest of the world, the Shield is available with a thumb safety or without. I’m always going to go for the simpler version, when available. I don’t want anything standing between me an adrenaline-laced defensive handgun use. When I’m at the range and kicking through rounds, or simply practicing, I can pull a gun and drop the safety. Yet the effort always requires a small percentage of brain activity. I’ve trained in situations that add external stress, and I find those stresses demand as much attention as I can give them. The safety then becomes one more step that I can screw up.
Maybe that’s why I’ve ignored the Shield for so long. I’d never seriously considered it for personal use precisely because of the additional safety. I tend to carry the guns I review. I want to know what it is like to live with them, wear them, depend on them. I wouldn’t carry a Shield with a thumb safety (unless it was truly my only option), which would keep me from reviewing it as completely as I’d like.
I’m finished with that rant. Clearly I wasn’t the only one making it, as S&W listened. The gun is now much more in line with the rest of the subcompact 9mms on the market, and even better when you consider some of the extras, like the trigger. This trigger has a safety built in that is all but impossible to screw up. The trigger itself breaks just over seven pounds. It has a bit of take up, and a crisp break. There’s no creep, at all, and the over-travel is limited. The reset is also relatively short, which makes the whole package one of the absolute best I’ve seen in a polymer-framed 9mm.
This crisp break, even at seven pounds, allows for surprising accuracy. Triggers are often the deciding factor in a gun like this. A bit of creep can really throw off shots. A heavy pull will obviously equate to sloppy shot placement. And a long reset will require so much hand movement that follow-up shots take more time. Yet all of these things are really subtle, and shooters often make excuses for the poor performance. Sloppy guns are “combat accurate.” To an extent, this is true. When I’m testing the accuracy of a pistol, I want to shoot at a paper target. I want to see it print on the paper. Yet when I’m working from the holster or really pushing the potential of a defensive handgun, I want to shoot steel torsos. If I hear the ring on the steel, I don’t care where the actual shot hit. Speed and agility are as important as accuracy, maybe more if someone might be shooting back. Still, the Shield doesn’t ask you to compromise. Shoot fast. Shoot accurately. You don’t have to choose.
Shooting the Shield
Just an aside…. We’ve recently moved our primary test range from Virginia (where I often used two well-equipped private ranges), to Arkansas (where we are going to equip our own). We don’t have the full set-up in place yet, so we had to do some improvising. We ran the Shield on paper, mostly, but also shot up a couple of 12-inch steel plates.
We had no difficulty with the Shield. The magazines drop free. The release is easy to use. The grip is textured in the right places, and not so aggressively textured that it wears on the hands. There is just enough gun to hold, and not a smidge more.
The slide release is a bit stiff. I expect that to wear in a bit, but it is hard to drop with your thumb. If you are in the habit of dropping the slide with your off hand, that shouldn’t be noticeable, but if you run the slide with your thumb you may need to start doing some strengthening exercises.
The muzzle flip is pronounced. That may be the one element that stands between me and really fast follow-up shots. With a relaxed grip, this pistol will jump. If you hold it down, double taps are easy enough, but I find the spread between the shots to be a bit larger than I like (which means I’m not getting it all the way back home before I’m hitting the trigger for the second shot).
As far as obfuscation goes, the Shield ranks very well. The short overall length means it disappears well, yet the grip (even with the eight-round magazine) isn’t so long that it prints. The width is minimal, so it hides well in the small of the back or appendix carry. We got this Shield in on the same day that we were headed out to the new range, so we haven’t had time to work with a holster made specifically for the gun. But we did try it out in a Sticky Holster, which worked predictably well. We’ll have more on Shield-specific holsters in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
The Shield comes apart easily. The lever rocks down toward the trigger guard. You have to drop the magazine to get the gun apart, and you also have to pull the trigger. There are many who consider this to be a liability, understandably. Yet the sequence helps insure that there are no potential pitfalls. You drop the magazine. You pull the slide way back. Then you rock the lever down and let go of the slide. If there had been a round in the chamber, it would get pulled when you pull back the slide. With any amount of common sense, the next step (which is pulling the trigger) should be foolproof. But fools exist, so watch yourself.
I’ve had this gun in hand for two weeks or so now, and my opinion of it continues to grow. When I unboxed it, I was curious and optimistic. When I pulled the trigger, I was much more optimistic. After three trips to the range and more than 500 completely trouble-free rounds, I’m going to give it the full-on thumbs up. I’ve yet to carry it for any length of time, and I’m going to put a lot more rounds through the gun before I make any final judgments, but I’ve not been this pleased with the initial performance of a pistol in this class in a long time.
The best part? Many out there will think it is the price. The MSRP is $449. The guns are selling for $75 less in many places. That places this gun well below the price point of much of its competition. With features that make this gun run better than the competition and a price that makes it less expensive, I can’t find much to complain about.