What do they say about the internet? Never read the comments. A few days before I sat down to write this story, Smith & Wesson released the new M&P380 Shield EZ and the trolls were banging on the bridges complaining.
They were complaining for no reason, and I just hadn’t had the chance to tell anyone that. You see, a couple months ago, Smith & Wesson invited me to a secret location, made me sign a non-disclosure agreement and then handed me one of these little beauties. That’s right, I called it a beauty — a little beauty.
The 380 Shield EZ is about 86 percent the size of a standard M&P pistol, which ensures that it falls right in that comfortable category where it’s easy to carry but still feels good in your hand. A lot of “small” guns are just too small to hold and shoot comfortably. That’s not the case with this pistol. It weighs in at just 18.5 ounces unloaded, and the complement of eight rounds of .380 ACP in the magazine and one more in the chamber doesn’t add much weight at all.
So what is all the fuss about? Some of the first people to comment on the gun called it ugly because of the large and easy-to-use grip safety on the back strap. It’s not ugly. It is different, but it’s a great feature that operates smoothly and positively; as I shot the gun, it caused no trouble at all. The grip safety actually provides that little extra bit of security if you choose the version without the frame-mounted thumb safety. Some people apparently just need things to complain about. This grip safety should not be one of those things.
Billed as a pistol that is “easy to use,” the 380 Shield EZ includes several features that truly make it so. Let’s start at the top. A very light recoil spring makes the M&P380 Shield EZ incredibly smooth and easy to charge. Running the slide is made even easier by what S&W calls “enhanced” serrations on the slide.
If you look closely, you will see that the serrations get deeper toward the back. This gives a bit of a concave element to the slide right where you will normally grip it. The pistol’s magazines also have thumb buttons on their followers to allow shooters to easily compress the springs while loading. For a guy who regularly suffers with filling a 15-round magazine, loading eight rounds of .380 was a breeze.
Field-stripping is also very quick and painless. Lock the slide to the rear. Remove the magazine. Make sure the chamber is clear. Flip the disassembly lever on the side of the frame to the down position and pull the slide off the front of the frame. Remove the recoil spring and barrel and you have successfully field-stripped the pistol. Reassemble in reverse order. Done.
Other things I like about this little pistol include the tactile loaded-chamber indicator right on the top, making it very easy to check to see if a round is chambered. The optional ambidextrous thumb safety is a cool addition for people who love thumb safeties. It is in the right place in that it didn’t cause any problems, even with my big hands. It works the right way, simply and positively engaging in either position. Down, of course, means the pistol is ready to fire. And, because it is ambidextrous, lefties won’t have any trouble. The magazine release is reversible too for those who demand a truly left-handed gun.
The 380 Shield EZ comes equipped with a big, beautiful, easy-to-see white dot on the front sight and two big white dots on the windage-adjustable rear sight. S&W even include the rear-sight-adjustment tool so you don’t have to dig in your toolbox if you want to move the sight. Also included in the box are two magazines.
On the Range
Shooting the 380 Shield EZ was … how can I put this without overstating it? Just short of magical. I loved shooting this pistol. The 5-pound trigger certainly does not get in the way of good shooting.
It’s a .380, but unlike most .380 pistols, there is plenty to hold onto. As you can imagine, felt recoil was negligible. The 3.675-inch barrel, combined with the overall length of 6.7 inches and, of course, the .380-sized recoil, made the gun imminently controllable and accurate even during rapid-fire.
The sights, as I mentioned before, have big, bright dots and a really wide rear-sight channel. During some IDPA-style shooting, I found the gun to be very fast on target, even with my aging eyes. At combat distances, it was very easy to pick up the pace of shooting if the groups were getting too small.
The S&W website touts the fact that the M&P380 EZ offers “an 18-degree” grip angle. If that’s important to you, you will love the fact. To me, grip angle doesn’t make all that much difference. What is important is how the gun feels in my hands, and this one feels good. It is thin yet comfortable, with what I call Goldilocks texturing — not too aggressive, not too smooth.
The back strap is made up largely of the grip safety, which is pinned in place at the bottom and moves easily with no pinch points. Shooters should have no concerns about disengaging that mechanism when holding the pistol in a proper shooting grip.
As a bonus, there is a small-but-effective beavertail at the top that protects your hand from slide bite while also not catching on anything during a draw from concealment.
Speaking of that proper shooting grip, I found this little pistol amazingly comfortable to shoot with one hand or two. All the controls are perfectly placed. I was originally concerned that I might knock the thumb safety up into the safe position when I acquired a two-handed grip, but that proved unfounded.
Using a highthumbs grip, the firing-hand thumb stays nicely up above the safety lever, while the support hand fills in the gap on the left side of the grip (for a right-handed shooter) without limiting access to disengage the safety. You might have to move your support hand a bit to re-engage the safety when you are done shooting, but by then, you are done shooting, so the support hand is not all that important anymore.
A Question Of Caliber
Some people might question S&W’s choice to release this pistol in .380 ACP, a caliber regularly disparaged by those who have never been shot with a .380. The only real downside I see in the caliber selection is that .380 ACP ammo is a bit more expensive than 9mm ammo. I can basically shrug that off.
This pistol is designed to be easy to operate. The key elements to that include the reduced weight of the recoil spring and lighter recoil of the .380. If the question is “stopping power,” or some other amorphous and subjective term, consider this: We all have choices to make.
If this gun allows a person who would otherwise not carry a gun to have nine rounds of .380 at the ready, then this is the right gun in the right caliber for that person, who likely represents a growing segment of the market.
Pistols of this caliber have stopped many fights. I stand by my claim that no criminal scoffs at the caliber of your gun while you are shooting at him. Modern ammunition makes the .380 an acceptable — if imperfect — defensive round. But, then again, every pistol caliber carries some imperfections.
The Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ is a winner. It is a wellbuilt gun and does everything it is designed to do. It is a pleasure to shoot. It has proven accurate and reliable and it lives up to the marketing claims that it is easy to operate. With an MSRP of only $399, you’ll even have money left over for a good holster and some ammo.