In the right hands, Smith and Wesson’s M&P Shield 9mm is a top contender for the standard in compact 9mm for everyday carry. For most, simply shooting the Shield is going to result in carrying the Shield. When Smith & Wesson released the Shield in 9mm and .40SW in 2012, they were filling a gap few of us knew existed. Of all the factors that contributed to it’s success, it is most likely a combination of the size of that market gap was there, and the fact this gun carved out it’s own niche.
Smith and Wesson’s M&P Shield 9mm
The gap the Shield filled was the physical size and perceived stopping power difference between .380s and compact 9mms. While this may be nuanced schematics, perhaps the best way to describe it is is the ‘feel’ of the gun that owners describe. The combination of the 18 degree grip angle, well balanced 3” barrel, and clean break of the 6.5 pound trigger pull all contribute to this positive feel. The major factor that affected a positive or negative feel was the shooter’s hand size.
This is something that simply stresses the importance of purchasing a firearm that fits you. The best way to do that is to handle and fire a wide variety of handguns before a purchase is made. The details that contribute to it’s success and shortcomings are listed here. While this is not an exhaustive list, these are the top topics that came up in interviews with Shield owners and this author’s own experience with the Shield.
The Smith and Wesson M&P Shield is currently produced in 9mm, .40, and .45 calibers. While the entire line could get days of accolades, we are going to focus on the 9mm platform. Primarily, the most consistent feedback is that the Shield has more soft edges, making it more concealable for smaller framed individuals. These soft edges are being compared to the boxiness of a Glock or similar frame. That’s not to say that the Shield is only for skinny guys and gals. Plenty of other people have also pointed out that the low profile is great for larger framed individuals as well. The only drawback has been for shooters with larger hands. The gun has tended to move around in larger paws, but again that’s why we test fire.
Perhaps the most notable feature about the Shield would be how slim it is. At .95 of an inch wide, it is one of the more intuitive conceal carry handguns on the market. When carried in combination with a high quality inside the waistband holster like the Galco Kingtuk IWB, it’s concealability cannot be understated. Other features, like the recessed safety lever add to the overall thin but user friendly profile of the Shield.
Between the 6.5 pound trigger pull and integrated trigger safety, one would expect a ‘clunky’ trigger operation. While this feel may have been reported by the Shield detractors, most owners report a clean and predictable trigger break. As with any handgun, dry fire practice is something that can help you get more familiarized with the details of the handgun like trigger break and travel. This helps build the muscle memory required to consistently manipulate the trigger while maintaining a stable overall platform. Additionally, the extended trigger guard may look unnatural but does allow for fitting a gloved finger into the trigger guard.
Disassembly and Maintenance
For many responsible gun owners, disassembly steps such as having to pull the trigger to release the slide presents a unique safety concern. Even the best intentioned and trained operators can make mistakes, as evidenced in one of my personal experiences. When I was working in the security contracting industry, there was an infamous incident on my job site. We were carrying Glock 17s and one of the guards accidentally shot himself in the hand pulling the trigger to take his pistol apart for maintenance.
While those accidents are few and far between, Smith and Wesson must have decided that we need an option to be safer. That is why they installed a sear deactivation lever inside the magazine well. This gives owners an option to safely release the slide without building the muscle memory that involves pulling the trigger to simply take apart their handgun for maintenance. Alternatively, you still have the option to pull the trigger to release the slide for a quicker field strip. Ensure the firearm is cleared beforehand and disassembled while pointed in a safe direction.
Friction alone can keep a magazine in the mag well. Be sure to verify that magazines are fully seated to avoid a failure to feed. Photo credit: Atlas Defense
The Shield comes new in the box with two magazines. The 9mm variant comes with a 7 round flush magazine and an 8 round extended. On the same day as purchase, consider buying at least one extra magazine and to continue buying up a few more. Having those extra magazines is good not only for EDC magazine rotation, but also for practical reloading training.
The magazines themselves are well made, and haven’t caused any major or repeatable stoppages according to owners. The one magazine-related stoppage that is reported is a failure to feed due to the magazine not being fully seated. Due to the design of the well and magazine itself, it is possible to wedge the magazine in the well without fully seating it. While that may contribute to the failure to feed, a stoppage like that is nearly entirely user-generated. This is best remedied by simply tapping the magazine to make sure it’s fully seated before you chamber a round.
Unlike other everyday carry semi automatics, the Shield is capable of firing without a magazine inserted. This is another design detail that may seem trivial, but can contribute to bringing you out on top of some of the worst case scenarios. Knowing that some failure to feed stoppages can be caused by something as simple as not fully seating a magazine, this feature helps mitigate that type of stoppage.
Despite it’s small size and lighter weight compared to the Glock 26 (and later Glock 43) the combination of the grip angle and overall weight distribution of the Shield work together for a manageable amount of recoil. Even with multiple shot drills, the muzzle rise isn’t going to take you completely off target like some larger caliber or framed handguns.
In conclusion, the M&P Shield is a great option in the concealable single stack 9mm, 40, and now 45 categories. It’s low profile created by its soft edges and recessed levers make the most out of the .95” width, one of the slimmest on the market. The functionality packed into such a small frame is immediately recognizable as soon as you pick up the handgun, and further evidenced by live fire and carrying it for an extended amount of time. The primary detail about this firearm that does not make it or any other gun a universal choice is its size. For shooters with larger hands, there are options such as grip tape and carrying the extended magazine to get the most contact and grip out of the handgun. However, shooter preference will ultimately dictate if this is the right handgun. Take a buddy out to the range with their Shield or rent one at the local range and experience for yourself what has made the Shield such a success since 2012.
Feature image photo credit: Atlas Defense
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