Over the years, as an instructor, I’ve taught thousands of people how to grip and shoot handguns. In almost every civilian course there’s been someone who struggles with recoil, weapon manipulation (racking the slide), or loading magazines. Often the person suffers from injuries, diseases like arthritis, or the one that’s going to get most of us, old age.
I’ve always struggled with advising those folks as to what gun they should purchase. Short of an ageing serum, there isn’t much most of them can do to increase their grip strength or reverse injuries; it’s a problem that is more easily fixed by purchasing a gun that’s easier to manipulate and shoot.
Rimfire handguns have been one of the only options for people who need easy. While I’m a big fan of the .22 LR and own at least a dozen of them, I don’t actually think it’s the best choice for self-defense or concealed carry. This is largely due to that fact that .22 ammo is so unreliable. Misfires are common, as are malfunctions.
Smith & Wesson saw the exact problem I’ve described and have literally engineered a gun to be easier to shoot and manipulate. The S&W Shield EZ in .380 is loosely based off the S&W Shield 9mm/40S&W. Loosely is the correct term because they actually don’t share many features once you get past the name Shield.
The Shield EZ is currently only available in .380. While this isn’t my favorite caliber, I also wouldn’t want to get shot with one. Many naysayers of the .380 forget that it has nearly the same diameter bullet as a .357 magnum (.355 vs .357) and penetration tests show that it can get the job done. Also, better bullets and ammunition have made a big difference to the lethality of the cartridge.
I’ve always argued that the best caliber is the one in the gun that you have with you. I have friends that are pretty snobby about calibers but they don’t carry every day. I’d rather have a .380 inside my waistband than a 454 Casull at home in the safe.
The Shield EZ barrel and slide are just slightly longer than a Shield 9mm. This isn’t a negative. The longer barrel will see some velocity gains over micro .380’s and a longer sight radius, in my opinion, is never a bad thing. The extra length isn’t going to ultimately make any difference to carrying it.
The sights are acceptable and are easy to see. There are aftermarket fiber optic and tritium sights available if something brighter is needed.
The Shield EZ has a loaded round indicator on the slide that you can feel in the dark to ensure the gun is loaded.
The frame is where there are some major improvements. The dust cover features a Picatinny rail so that lights and lasers can be mounted. This is a feature lacking on the Shield 9mm.
The texture on the grip is not overly aggressive. It feels kind of like fine sandpaper. I prefer more texture but this will work for most people and shouldn’t tear your clothes or skin in a concealed carry situation and it’s an improvement over the original Shield.
Also, the frame features a grip safety. As long as you properly grip the gun you’ll never notice the grip safety and I had no problems with it working.
Speaking of safeties, the Shield EZ I tested has two. The grip safety and an internal striker channel drop safety that’s automatically disengaged when you pull the trigger, similar to most striker fired guns. There is an optional thumb safety available. I personally prefer it without the thumb safety. I like simple. I carry with a round chambered and I want it to fire when I pull the trigger, similar to a revolver. The optional thumb safety has also had a recall, which goes back to my keep-it-simple philosophy. I like the grip safety and think it’s a well-engineered feature. If the grip safety is not engaged, the trigger is dead.
The trigger in the Shield EZ is also a complete redesign. Instead of traditional striker style trigger, the trigger releases an internal hammer that hits a firing pin. It’s technically a single action trigger. The internal hammer hits hard. It also makes the gun easier to rack the slide. The trigger is excellent. It feels short and crisp. It makes the gun very easy to shoot. I’d rank it as one of the best stock concealed carry triggers on the market. An average of 5 trigger pulls on a Lyman Digital Trigger Guage was 4 lbs. 15.2 oz.
The gun comes with two magazines that hold 8+1 rounds each, which is excellent. More is better and this is above average. One of the features of the magazines is that they are easy to load. In fact, they are similar to a rimfire magazine. You can compress the spring with one hand and drop rounds into the mag.
Disassembly of the gun for cleaning is easy:
Racking the slide on the EZ is similar to racking the slide on a .22 LR. The recoil spring is very light and it doesn’t take much to pull it back. I think it’s important to point out that you need to pull the slide all the way back and let go like it’s a slingshot. If you don’t, you could induce malfunctions due to how light the recoil spring is.
I wanted to make sure that the gun is really as easy to manipulate and shoot as I’m claiming so I enlisted the help of a nine-year-old to load and shoot the Shield EZ. Turns out, it’s so easy, even a nine-year-old can do it. Check out the video.
The gun worked flawlessly and without malfunctions. I didn’t clean it or oil it. I just shot it.
Accuracy was more than acceptable with groups averaging around an inch at 10 yards after the gun broke in. I tested the gun with Magtech, American Eagle, CCI Blazer, Sig V Crown, Herters, Sig Elite Performance, and PMC. The first shots out of gun went into a five shot group that was about 2.5 inches which was disappointing. It might have been a little bit of the shooter but I think the gun actually started shooting better after about 25 rounds. I went back and shot the same ammo and it turned in a group that was a ragged hole.
I didn’t have a single malfunction of any kind and neither did the nine-year-old.
I’ll probably continue to carry my Shield 9mm because I prefer 9mm and I have no problems with manipulating the gun or with the recoil. However, this is the gun I now recommend for anyone that struggles. It’s substantially easier than a revolver to shoot and is more reliable and packs substantially more punch than a .22. I believe it to be the easiest centerfire pistol in the concealed carry market to shoot and it might be the ultimate kids gun.
The nine-year-old would like to own it.
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