April 12, 2012
By James Tarr
Here's our first look at the brand new pistol from Smith & Wesson, the M&P Shield. I had an opportunity to travel to S&W's Springfield, Massachusetts headquarters a few weeks ago and run the Shield through its paces, and anyone looking for a small, easy to conceal, reliable pistol should pay attention.
Offered in 9mm and .40 S&W, the M&P Shield is a compact gun small enough to fit in a pocket but designed to pass rigorous law enforcement Test & Evaluation standards. In pictures the Shield looks like a standard M&P Compact in profile, but that's deceiving. Personally I find the M&Pc rather chunky—the Shield is anything but.
The Shield is thinner than a standard M&P, because it isn't fed by a double-column magazine. Only .98" wide at its fattest point (the grip), with a frame .95" wide and the slide narrower than that, the Shield was very flat. The Shield doesn't have the M&P's standard interchangeable backstraps, but 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 M&P Shield has a 3.1-inch barrel and weighs 19 ounces empty. It has a 6.1-inch overall length, 5.3-inch sight radius, and while it isn't as small as some "pocket" pistols, it will fit in a pocket as long as you're not wearing your "skinny jeans". During testing I was wearing Levi's and was able to stick the pistol in my front pocket (flush magazine inserted) no problem.
Most everything you expect in a full-size M&P you'll find in the Shield, including three-dot no snag sights made out of steel, a stainless steel recoil spring guide rod, Melonite finished stainless steel slide, and a reversible mag catch with steel insert. The slide stop and manual safety are single-sided to keep the pistol slim. 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.
RELATED: Shooting Times M&P Shield Video & Image Gallery
The 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 baseplate, the other an extended magazine with a grip extension. In 9mm the magazines hold 7 and 8 rounds respectively, in .40 S&W 6 and 7 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 of it being narrower.
S&W 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 lbs, the trigger pulls on all the Shields I tried were crisper than what I've come to expect on M&Ps, and felt lighter.
I shot a 9mm Shield extensively over the course of two days and found 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).
Smith & Wesson reps have told me that as of today they should have two months of inventory ready to ship (7,000-8,000 units ready by April 12), so if you have a favorite S&W retailer they're likely to have a Shield on their shelves very shortly. 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, Fobus, and a number of other companies.
At a suggested retail of only $449, Smith and Wesson is sure to have a hit on their hands. I know I like it. Look for my full review of this pistol in an upcoming issue of Handguns Magazine!