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Thin Is In: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Review

by James Tarr   |  August 31st, 2012 38


Gun writers occasionally get to go to fancy events where manufacturers spend lavish amounts of money to debut a new firearm. I both enjoy and yet dread attending these events, for while I am as happy as anybody to eat free food and shoot other people’s ammo, the question of how to write up the product can be tricky. What if the manufacturer spent all that money to wow a bunch of gun writers and the pistol turns out to be a big yawn? Nobody wants to participate in a celebration of mediocrity (or worse).

It was with these concerns in mind that I took a trip to Springfield, Mass., this past March to visit Smith & Wesson. The S&W folks promised they had something really special to show us, and after signing a nondisclosure agreement, I know I wasn’t the only writer there who hoped they had a product worth the buildup. They did.

Offered in 9mm and .40 S&W, the new M&P Shield is designed as a thinner and lighter alternative to the proven M&P line. S&W has been broadcasting crime statistics as part of its big advertising push for the Shield, and if you didn’t know that there are 12,000 carjackings every year in this country, or that someone is assaulted every nine seconds, then those are quite sobering statistics.

Smith & Wesson believes the Shield is ideal for concealed carry. It has a 3.1-inch barrel and weighs 19 ounces empty. It has a 6.1-inch overall length, 4.6-inch height and 5.3-inch sight radius. As a pocket pistol it is pretty big and as a “belt gun” it is rather small, but what initially got my interest was how flat the Shield was.

The Shield is narrower than a standard M&P in part because it isn’t fed by a double-column magazine. Only 0.98 inch wide at its fattest point, the grip, with a frame that’s 0.95 inch wide and the slide in many places narrower than that, the Shield is very thin for its size.

From the side, the Shield’s slide looks like a standard M&P slide, but that is not the case. Not only does it use a thinner magazine, the entire gun, including the slide, is thinner than a standard M&P. Don’t let the fact that from the side it looks like a standard M&P Compact fool you; this is an entirely new gun.

The M&P line is S&W’s biggest-selling product and has been a huge success in the law enforcement market in particular. With the Shield, the company wanted to produce a small gun aimed not only at the rapidly expanding civilian CCW market but police officers as well. The goal was to design a small, easily concealable pistol suitable for plainclothes and off-duty officers that not only looked just like a full size M&P but functioned the same as well.

To reach that goal, Smith & Wesson engineers designed the Shield to be tough enough to pass strict law enforcement test-and-evaluation standards. At the start of this project in July 2010, the company first obtained compact autos from Ruger, Taurus, Kahr and Kel-Tec, and tested them for accuracy, reliability and durability. They literally shot them until they broke, and then the S&W engineers sat down at their computers and built a gun that even cops would have a hard time breaking.

Like its full-size M&P brothers, the Shield has a stainless steel barrel and Melonite-coated slide. The recoil spring guide rod is stainless steel as well. The magazine catch is reversible and has a steel insert. The Shield has the standard M&P three-dot steel sights and is rated for +P ammunition.

To make it thinner than a standard M&P required some changes. The slide stop and manual safety are single-sided to keep the pistol slim. The Shield does not have the M&P’s interchangeable backstraps; the grip profile is designed to imitate the medium-size backstrap of the M&P, which the people at Smith told me was the most popular size by far.

The engineers thought including a manual safety was a good idea for a striker-fired pistol destined to end up in pockets and purses. The safety is small and stiff enough that if you don’t want to use it, it won’t get in the way or get accidentally engaged.

I have no use for the safety, so my concern was whether it would accidentally get knocked to Safe bouncing around in a pocket or purse. I’m happy to report that the safety is flat and stiff enough that it is not going to get knocked on (or off) by accident.

This is both good and bad. The Shield’s safety is positioned where you’ll see the safety on a 1911, but flipping off the Shield’s safety with the side of your thumb on the draw stroke just isn’t going to happen. You’re going to need to use the tip of a finger.

The Shield has no magazine disconnect safety and will fire with the magazine removed. This is as it should be for a gun of this type.

The M&P Shield’s magazine isn’t a true single-column magazine. In fact, it is about a cartridge-and-a-half wide, except where it narrows at the top. I spoke to one of the engineers who told me they didn’t go with a true single-column magazine to avoid issues with rim lock. This slightly wider magazine, however, allows for a little more capacity in a pistol that is a mere 4.6 inches tall.

Each Shield is sold with two magazines, one with a flush base plate, the other an extended magazine with a grip extension. In 9mm, the magazines hold seven and eight rounds respectively, in .40 S&W six and seven rounds.

With the flush magazine installed I can get all of my fingers (including half of my pinky) on the pistol, which is a huge plus. I have medium-size hands, and with the grip-extension magazine in place the grip felt nearly as long as a full-size M&P, even though it wasn’t—perhaps because it’s narrower.

Smith engineers have improved the standard M&P trigger system for the Shield and reduced the reset. Even though the trigger pull weight is still the standard M&P 6.5 pounds, the trigger pulls on all the Shields I tried were cleaner than what I’ve come to expect on M&Ps. This newly designed trigger system will be making its way to the rest of the M&P line shortly. Aftermarket triggers designed for full-size M&Ps will not fit into the Shield.

Remember, the Shield is designed to survive rigorous law enforcement testing. To that end, every pistol off the line is test-fired. One in every 300 to 500 guns produced goes through an extensive test, and every 1,500th gun produced is put through an exhaustive endurance test.

The Shield admittedly isn’t as small as most “pocket” pistols, but it is something they aren’t: shootable. While visiting Smith & Wesson, over the course of two days I put a lot of rounds through a 9mm Shield. I discovered that it recoiled only slightly more than a full-size M&P.

Honestly, it felt more like a full-size gun during shooting than a compact, and at one point I put 300 rounds through it in an hour without suffering a sore hand or wrist (most of it using the flush-fitting magazine).

I don’t think I could say the same thing if my Shield had been chambered in .40 S&W, but I have no problems with using a 9mm for personal defense. If nothing short of a .40 will do for you, don’t fret, Smith is making one.

At the Smith & Wesson event I was one of 10 writers who put 3,000 rounds through 10 M&P Shields in two days. In that time the only malfunctions we had were caused by bad ammo. (Whenever I read in a gun magazine about jams caused by “bad ammo,” my ears always perk up because it sounds like a fabricated excuse. In this case it is totally true. We had at least 20 rounds with split or wrinkled case mouths that ended up causing feeding jams. I won’t name the ammo company because normally they have very good quality control.)

The Shield is small and narrow enough that occasionally my thumb would bump the release lever and keep the slide from locking back on an empty magazine. I wasn’t the only shooter who experienced this, but that’s one of the problems you find with small guns.

I took the Shield to my local club and let whoever wanted to put as many rounds through the pistol as they wanted. About half the shooters were able to get all their fingers on the pistol with the flush magazine in. Everyone commented not just on how accurate the pistol was (shotgun hulls at 10 yards were no challenge at all to people who had just picked up the gun) but also controllable.

The experienced shooters in the crowd noted that even with +P loads, though recoil got a bit snappy, the front sight of the Shield went straight up and straight down. The Shield was big enough and accurate enough that I tested it for accuracy at 25 yards instead of my usual 15 for pocket guns.

I’ve fed my Shield steel-cased ammo from Hornady and Black Hills in addition to an assortment of handloads and copious amounts of Federal ammunition. At least half the ammunition through this pistol has been hollowpoints, and I haven’t had a single feeding issue because of it.

At this point I have more than 700 rounds through the same Shield without cleaning it, and it shows no signs of stopping. That’s a heck of a lot of rounds through a gun small enough to fit in a pocket (albeit a big pocket).

Smith & Wesson didn’t announce the Shield until mid April, when it had two months of inventory ready to ship (7,000 to 8,000 units). From everything I’m hearing that inventory isn’t going to last two months, as Shields seem to be selling very well.

My local gun store got in two Shields within a week of the pistol being announced, and they didn’t last on the shelves more than a day or two. I already know someone whose carry gun is a brand-new Shield.

S&W has also done a very smart thing and paired up early with numerous accessories manufacturers, and by the time you find a pistol you should be able to find holsters, sights, and/or lasers to fit the Shield from Galco, Blackhawk!, Crimson Trace, Hi-Viz, Uncle Mike’s, Laserlyte, Fobus, LaserMax, DeSantis Gunhide, Pistol Wear and Williams Gun Sight Co.

I had the opportunity to shoot Shields equipped with XS Big Dot sights as well, and that seems like a great pairing. Holsters designed to fit the Walther PPS appear to fit the Shield very nicely.

To be honest, I have been looking to buy a subcompact auto for quite some time and just haven’t been happy with what I could find. While I don’t think the M&P Shield is perfect (I don’t like the safety), it’s the closest thing I’ve found to perfection in a gun this size, and I now own it.

At a suggested retail of only $449, Smith & Wesson is sure to have a hit on its hands with the M&P Shield.


The Shield is quite a soft-shooting gun for its size, even with +P loads, and shooters actually enjoyed doing full magazine dumps just to see how the pistol fared.

  • oldbill

    The ammo problem is why I reload. My carry ammo cases have been fired once and resized. Powder is hand measured and visually inspected. Primers used are brands that I have NEVER had a failure. Jacket bullets are used. Each month, without disassembly and cleaning, the carry rounds are fired from the carry gun as is. Although I have never had an ammo failure, I have discovered one mechanical failure on a third round (a spring came out of slot causing the hand not to advance the cylinder and binding on the hammer. The gun fired the first two rounds in the test. If you carry factory ammo, you need to inspect all of it visually, and then randomly test at least one clip (cylinder). Probably brand name ammo will be ok. I just don't want that first round to have a defective primer or NO powder.

    • john

      using handloads is a great affordable way to practice. In a self defense situation, factory ammo is a must to avoid complicating an already complex situation in court. No need to have the anti gun lawyer accusing you of loading something they will present as a cruel, maiming, sadistic round. Black Talon ring a bell? Best adcice is to carry what local law enforcement does or somethiong similar if a different caliber.

      P.S. … Magazine. No disrespect intended, but using the term clip when it's actually a magazine (and there's a distinct difference) takes away from credibility.

      • Joel Copeland

        To all you purists out there: Yeah, we know a "clip" is a magazine, that the term "clip" came from the three sided loader for the M1 Garand. Jesus already. You add a front and a bottom to it and now it's a "magazine" and anyone who doesn't agree with you gets to go sit in the corner. By the way, purist-jerks, a magazine "clips" rounds together, and doesn't also mean a rag with pictures of Brangelina or Snookie posted all over it. I'll keep calling it a clip, thank you very much.

        • Wolvie

          The term clip did not come from the Garand en-bloc clip. It predates it by many years.

          You can't just "add a front and a bottom to it" and call it a magazine because a magazine has moving parts…a clip does not.

          But by all means, keep calling a magazine a clip when you allegedly know the difference between the two. It makes it easy for the rest of us to figure out who will resort to name-calling for no reason and allow us to identify those who will post "facts" but get those wrong too.

  • Tony Yates

    Me neither! But I've never had a Black Hills or Hornady round not go BANG! I'll use my reloads for pracice but my Carry loads will always be either Black Hills or Hornady factory ammo. I believe they can produce better Self Defense ammo than I can. Now I definitely enjoy reloading and testing rifle rounds for hunting!

  • Daryl

    Please, what does the article on the S&W Shield pistol have to do with reloads. The writer tells us that 20rounds out of 3000 were defective, but it sounds like the writer is covering up for the ammo manufacturer or the nine other writers didn't look at the rounds when they were being loaded in the mags. The name of the ammo manufacture does need to be know or they won't fix their mistakes. I've never had that many bad factory rounds. Something is not right in the article. You notice he "the author" was paid to write good things about the pistol and did not blame any misfire's on the pistol. I have never had a new gun that didn't misfire in the first several hundred rounds. Failures to feed or eject is common in every gun. Just another paid professional not being honest. Let me have a new gun and new factory ammo and I will give an honest review. Don't blame the ammo.

    • Dave

      My Glock 23 has NEVER misfired. I frequently put hundreds of rounds through it in one range session.

      • accord50

        I agree with you Dave I have a glock 19 and it has never ever missfired and I have put 10,000 rounds threw it, all factory ammo of course .

        • GlockShlock

          Oh yes, agree. I have put over TWO MILLION rounds thru my Glock and never had any kind of malfunction. All shots were in the 10 ring also.

          • LK7

            With 1 million of those shots being while submerged underwater, I'm sure! :)

    • Ross

      I have put 2000 plus through my P226. No misfire yet! ……what kind of crappy guns you buying

  • Nahum

    I would love to know what the engineers found when "… the company first obtained compact autos from Ruger, Taurus, Kahr and Kel-Tec, and tested them for accuracy, reliability and durability." S&W did make the recoil spring guide rod stainless steel many others are not which I find interesting. Thankfully S&W did not include a magazine disconnect safety. I've carried a Kahr PM9 for a couple of years and found it to be ultra-reliable. IMHO the S&W shield is one of the few guns that can truly compete with the Kahr – if it as good as advertised with the exception of an external safety on the S&W. One of the things the Shield has going for it is a reasonably priced and reliable (from reports) understudy pistol in the M&P22.

  • Shreddi

    Good point the Ruger is one of the hottest if not the hottest selling cary out now. I have a couple walthers/sw and am thinking of ruger for the small carry. Ill have to find the stats on misfire vs rounds. thanks. Any other suggestions for good carry piece? Thanks again.

    • John

      Just got around to reading article…I like the Ruger, but it was a little over my budget, so settled on the Kel-Tec PF9…not disappointed, it is everything I researched, both good & bad…so far no problems…it's not a target gun, but definately a carry one.

  • Joel Copeland

    In addition to my comment to purists who demand that a handgun clip be called a magazine, my dad was in the Navy as a navigator on a battleship. When you see THEIR magazines, you'll never call a clip for a handgun a "magazine" ever again.

    • Philip

      I agree. It is also one of those 'cringe times' for me, when I read clip in lieu of magazine, especially a 'Gun' Article .

  • Wolvie

    I never really had a lot of interest in sub-compact guns…but I have to say that the Shield and the XDs are two that I find very interesting and surprisingly easy to shoot.

    I'm glad to see manufacturers making purpose built small framed guns instated of just chopping down full sized guns. I'm also happy to see sub-compacts that are chambered for major calibers, yet can still be easy to shoot.

    I just may end up convincing myself that I need this Shield if only to round out my M&P collection. I don't know what it is, but I just really like the entire M&P line. I guess it's like guys that feel the same about Glocks and end up collecting all different models.

    • Lisa Scilipote

      I am so glad to finally see a post that is informative about the shield. I am in the market for a compact but I am first reading reviews like yours wolvie so I can decide. Thank you again

  • doc/ellwood

    I have to agree with Wolvie on the M&P line. I have two full size and the Shield, and all are portable (esp. the Shield!), fun to shoot, and carry any accessories needed. I have a laser sight and a CT Lightgard on the full size; I'm waiting for CT to produce the Lightgard for the Shield with the slide holster to carry it. Great for night time and home defense. FTF, etc. are almost non-issues with these pistols, though I mainly put good factory loads through them, and (probably) keep them cleaned more than necessary.
    For a little variety I have a Sig P238, an excellent little pistol, and a quick go-to when necessary. I have a laser sight mounted on the trigger guard, but haven't yet seen a holster for that setup. Any suggestions?

  • Dirty Devan

    I rather have this to the Glock

  • Joe

    I've never had any malfunctions with my M&P 40. Almost all rounds fired were Winchester White Box from Walmart, a few Speer Gold Dots from a local gun store. I like the way the M&P ejects to the side too. I don't get hit with hot brass the way I did with my buddy's XD 45.

  • Ghost'

    Who cares about the ammo issue and failure to fire, or your debate over which ones it was. I have a m&p 45 commander , M&P 40compact, M&P shield 9, a glock 23, and a glock 19. I have had a failure to fire in every single one of them, all ammo related and some using better name ammo. On each failure, the striker hit the primer and the primer failed. THIS IS NOT THE WEAPONS FAULT! As a carry gun, in the summer I typically carry either my M&P 40c, or glock 23, minimal size difference. In the winter, It is the 45 of my FNH fnp-9. As a shooter however, I prefer the M&P45 and FNH over all. The M&P shield is a good concept and it does what it is suppose to do, just as rugers and the others do, fairly accurate, almost on par with the 40c or glock 23 and 19. It will work well as a purse gun or iwb gun and this is what it is designed for. Not a target gun or a plinking gun, but a "concealed carry" handgun. I just prefer knowing I have more rounds if I need them, 10+1, or 14+1 v/s 6+1 in the 40cal shield. All in all though, I like the gun and I do on occasion carry it in place of my kel-tec 380, which I bought the shield to replace an have yet to sell. I just "prefer", personal decision, the other options over the shield. It also would be a great ankle gun as a backup piece.

  • Aaron

    Well, I just got my Shield .40 cal last week and finally got to shoot it this Sat. Right away, the clip (or magazine, or bullet holder ) starting unlocking after I fired. It didn't fall out completely, just came loose which caused the ammo to stop feeding. It did this several times and I even had 2 other shooters fire it and the same thing happened with them. After a little research on the web, I found out this is a problem with some other Shield owners as well ( see YouTube). I called S&W today and reported my problem and they are having me send it in to them. I hope the ycan resolve this quickly.

  • Shield40

    I have an M&P Shield in .40 S&W. Shot 250 rounds through it last weekend, using ONLY the 7 round extended mag. Zero issues with mag drop. Love this gun. Very easy to conceal, good accuracy, and so far, good reliability.

  • DoubleTap

    Love my Shield .40…but still rotate from carrying my Glock 27 and my Kimber Ultra CDP II sub compact in .45
    I am very profficient with all three firearms and carry 24/7/365.

  • Caligula

    I like the shield, but bought the Beretta Nano because its just a little bit smaller than the shield. The shield seems so close in size to my Glock 27, and I wanted to get something I could easily carry under a T- shirt or computer case. The Nano also seems to be more solid and tighter feeling than the Sheild.

    • MrApple

      It is close to the same size as the Glock 26/27 but the difference in thinness makes the Shield a lot more comfortable for concealed carry for IWB carry and is not as likely to print as the chunky Glock for OWB.

  • jacks1911

    After being on a wait list since 4/26/12, I finally got my Shield, in 9 MM, on 6/11/12. I've only got 228 rounds through it but they all worked 100%.
    It's now my CC gun for spring, summer & fall but the winter weather in Michigan cause me to switch it out for my Kimber Ultra CDP.
    I've changed nothing on the Shield but I am considering installing the CT #LG489 laser guard. The prices on EBay are in the $160ish range. I consider the Shield a point & shoot type gun & that's why I'm thinking about the laser.
    It is the easiest CC gun I've ever owned.

  • bob jones

    My FFL just received my Shield 9mm today. Can’t wait to pick it up. I am definitely a Glock man for sure, but when it comes to single stack sub-compact, Shield is the BEST option when it comes to quality vs price.

  • Kudu40

    ‘No offense to the Navy, but anyone who was in Combat Arms in the Army or Marines know the difference between a clip and a magazine. Weapons such as the M1 Garand have clips, auto loading pistols such as the M1911 etc. have magazines as do Battleships, many military installations, construction sites and so on. When I hear someone calling a magazine a clip, I think of my older brother and he is an imbecile when it comes to weapons.
    Thanks for letting me rant.

    • Robert

      This is my rife and this is my gun. One is for shooting and the other for fun. I do not remember any singing about clips and magazines when I went through boot camp and advanced training. I ended up in the Mobile Artillery in Nam and guys called the magazines clips all the time. Only now do people tend to make a big deal about it. A rose by any other name, is still a rose. So don’t make a big stink about or make claims about what us combat vets called them. We can argue about stocks and grips if you like. :)

      • Lou F

        When a person who knows guns says mags or clips it doesnt bother me too much. but when i hear a news reporter say it i CRINGE ! Thats because we all know (gun people)that they do not know their ass from a hole in the ground,but they are talking to the public who may not be gun people.

  • Michael Mathras

    I could not disagree more with James’ assessment of the Shield’s safety mechanism…unless, perhaps, one is left-handed. My .40 cal Shield’s heavily splined/knurled surface makes for a smooth and natural “Safety-Off” thumb swipe as it passes down over the latch. I feel that the safety feature gives an added measure of security for those of us who “keep one in the pipe” for personal carry.

  • KYshooterUSMC

    Just bought the shield in .40 s&w for $370 new. Absolutely love it!!!! Not quit as accurate as my sig 226 in .40 but this is to be expected due to either only having about 200 rounds fired through shield or I believe more to the diff between full size vs. compact. Either way I’m very satisfied with the ease of transition between the two, And will be recommending it to friends. Also bought the crimson trace laser guard for $170 and definitely recommend it as well. Greatly reduces time between acquiring targets. The three dot white sights are fine but I will be adding night sights asap. Once I have the sights (which is not needed just personal preference) the only $$ I’ll spend is for ammo and up keep

  • MrApple

    The S&W Shield 9mm is a fantastic concealed carry gun. All you need to do is change out the factory sights for some quality night sights and add the rubberized Talon grips and the pistol is ready for the world. I think the 7-round magazine works better for concealed carry but the 8-round magazine feels better in the hand. The new Pearce grip extension looks very promising. And maybe just maybe, when money is more plentiful, a Crimson Trace laser might grace my trusty Shield.

  • Harry

    Of course by now you know you can buy a Shield with no manual safety an it cost less than the one that does. I personally like redundant safeties. I like to put it on safe when storing my gun because all guns I own are always loaded. There is a difference in handling a gun as IF it were loaded and knowing for certain that it is loaded. Just ask those who had unintentional discharges. I keep my safety on when I holster and unholster bt flick it off once safely holstered. It give me the best of both worlds and is similar to most of my semi autos which have safeties. I even swipe imaginary safeties off guns without them. :)

  • 1stlttightwad

    Got tired of carrying my full size 1911 and wasn’t comfortable(at ease) with my North American 22mag as my only carry gun at times.. I have done my research and have settled on the Shield in .40 cal as my gun of choice.. Found one at Academy Sports and as soon as my check hits a little trip to them and it will be mine.. We have our own family shooting range so I can guarantee it will get a work out with all the relatives.. They love a new “toy” as much as I do. Looking forward to traveling with a greater sense of “ease”.. Will give a follow up when it is in my hands.. Dave– 12/21/14 posting.

  • 1stlttightwad

    Just bought my Shied 40cal..Went to our family range 12/27/14 to get used to it.. The very first round printed 1 inch high from dead center on a Shoot-N-See target, the remainder of the 6 round and the 7 round printed all in a neat little group of about 2 1/2 inches.. This was at 10 yards and firing as quick as the front sight settled down. I fired a total of about 60 rounds with no hic-ups of any description…After doing all of my research before giving my $399 to Gander Mountain I can say that all of the reviews have been spot on.. Pert near a perfect packing pistol with enough oomph to get the job done… pronto.. I have been carrying a 1911 for several decades and just got tired of all the weight. At 23oz and a few more loaded to capacity it is a pleasure to carry.. THIS one you won’t leave at the house..

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