Smith & Wesson (S&W) launched the wildly successful M&P Shield pistol in 2012. It has since become the hottest selling pistol in the United States, now manufactured in three calibers.
Coincidentally, S&W had been importing the Walther PPS until 2012, which was very similar in size to the Shield. In fact, many who saw the Walther when it was released suggested adding a U.S.-style magazine release, rounding the trigger guard and pricing it under $500 for a winning formula. It looks like S&W had the same idea because that is exactly what the Shield turned out to be–and S&W’s relationship with Walther ended just as the Shield hit the market.
The perfect balance between performance and concealability, the Shield has been described as “the smallest gun you can fight with.”
Launching in 9mm, S&W soon offered the .40 version for customers wanting a larger bore. Built on the same frame as the 9, most holsters and accessories interchange between the two.
The Shield .45, however, is built on a larger frame and has significantly less parts commonality.
A downside to ultra-compact pistols are the stiff recoil springs necessary to manage cycling the gun in such a small envelope. For many, this means difficulty racking the slide to chamber a round when loading the gun or clearing a malfunction.
To address this market segment that didn’t have the hand strength to operate a Shield or manage the recoil when shooting, S&W launched the .380 M&P Shield EZ.
The “EZ” in the name tells us that this is very easy to rack. This is partly due to having an internal hammer system, unlike the striker system of its larger caliber brethren. The hammer assembly is positioned lower in the frame, giving the slide more leverage to cock the internal hammer.
Smith & Wesson engineers also optimized the slide weight and recoil spring to function with a wide range of loads currently available for the .380. Recoil management is not an issue as even the stoutest defensive loads are tamed by the EZ’s smart design. The slide is also contoured with a flare at the rear to give the shooter additional purchase on the slide. It is very subtle and blends with the slide serrations but it can make the difference for some people.
The eight-round magazine is easy to load because of the tab that protrudes from the left side of the magazine. When feeding the cartridges into the magazine, you use your thumb to press down on the tab to take up the tension on the magazine spring. This feature is frequently seen on .22 rimfire magazines.
The EZ also sports a passive grip safety that has been added to the backstrap, reminiscent of the M1911. The difference is the pivot point is at the bottom of the backstrap and disconnects the hammer block as soon as you assume a firing grip.
The Shield EZ was a surprise because S&W already had a .380 auto in the form of the Bodyguard. More of a pocket pistol, the S&W Bodyguard was intended for deep concealment and pocket carry, not ease of use. The smaller design, shorter recoil spring and shorter sight radius made the Bodyguard a tool for a more experienced shooter than the EZ was intended.
Faced with multiple choices in the same product line, which pistol makes the most sense for CCW? If we judge by sales numbers, the 9mm Shield is the hands-down winner. It is a logical choice for a lot of reasons.
The 9mm is a better round for the 3.1-inch barrel of the Shield. The lighter projectile is easier to get up to speed, especially with ammunition tailored to compact barrels. The .40 and .45ACP were designed to run in guns with 4- and 5-inch barrels respectively, and the heavy projectiles are difficult to spin up in the short tube. The .45 ACPs launching from the Shield .45’s 3-inch barrel hum along at 700+ feet per second as opposed to the 9-mil’s 950-1050 fps track time.
The 3.675-inch barrel of the EZ is practically cannon-length for this round and should ensure a full burn before the projectile leaves the barrel. The Bodyguard barrel is 2.75 inches and won’t generate the same ballistics as the longer tube in the EZ.
Ballistics aside, the 9mm holds more rounds than the .40 or .45. This is always a plus, especially if you don’t carry a spare magazine. The EZ holds 8+1 as the .380 case is the same diameter as the more powerful 9mm, and the Bodyguard comes in at 6+1. If you feel the need for the .45 version, you can choose between 6+1 or 7+1, depending on how long you want your magazine to be.
Regardless of caliber, one of the Shields is going to be easier to shoot than the Bodyguard. The shorter sight radius with less to hold on to make the Bodyguard less likely to achieve meaningful hits at anything greater than elevator range (as in having a gunfight inside an elevator). Shield owners should have no problem qualifying on the standard FBI qual course, which runs you out to 25 yards.
Regardless of which Shield you choose, there are a staggering variety of holster options available. Small enough to run an ankle rig or appendix carry but substantial enough for strong-side IWB, the Shield can do it all.
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