Imagine a gun company taking one of its most successful pistols and chambering it in a smaller, weaker cartridge. That is exactly what has been done with the new Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ .380 (manufacturer SKU # 180023). The original M&P Shield was offered in 9mm and .40 S&W, and this new pistol is “only” a .380 ACP. However, after spending a lot of time with the gun, I have to say Smith & Wesson probably has another success on its hands.
Chambering a pistol in a less-powerful cartridge seems to be counterintuitive to a lot of people. Or just plain dumb. After all, this is America, where we supersize everything and stuff bigger and bigger cartridges into smaller and smaller pistols—a place where somebody makes a derringer chambered in .44 Magnum.
However, not every gun owner has the strength of a barrel-chested SWAT team leader. Small, light guns not only recoil heavily, but also need to be outfitted with strong recoil springs to handle those powerful rounds, making their small slides surprisingly hard to work.
The M&P Shield EZ 380 does have “Shield” in the name, but it is not simply a downsized 9mm Shield. Actually, it is about a half-inch longer and three-eighths inch taller than the 9mm/.40 S&W Shield. In appearance, it does not have the proportions of the original Shield; it has the proportions of a full-size M&P, just slightly reduced in size.
Overall, it is 6.7 inches long by 4.7 inches tall, which means it is too big for a pocket but will disappear under a covering garment in just about any kind of holster because it is very thin. At the ambidextrous manual safety lever, this model is 1.45 inches wide, but the frame of the gun itself is only 1.04 inches wide. While I think every gun should be in a holster that covers the trigger guard, the Shield EZ’s size, weight and grip safety would make it ideal for purse or bag carry.
It offers most of the same features that have made the 9mm Shield such a huge success. The EZ sports a 35/8-inch stainless steel barrel, the same stainless steel slide with corrosion-resistant Armornite coating, the same steel three-dot sights, and the same reversible magazine catch as the original 9mm and .40 S&W Shields. Because this is a Shield M2.0, it also features forward cocking serrations and texturing on the grip that is noticeably more aggressive. The magazine release is reversible.
While this gun shares those features with the bigger Shields, Smith & Wesson has changed a lot of things on this pistol to make it much easier to load the magazines, easier to chamber a round, easier to shoot and easier to disassemble for cleaning than a standard Shield.
First, the EZ’s magazines are the only centerfire handgun magazines I can think of that feature a thumb stud on the side of the follower to make it easier to load. Just about every .22 Long Rifle pistol magazine has this feature, but you just don’t see them on centerfire mags. The EZ’s stainless steel magazines hold eight rounds and have numbered witness holes and visible orange followers.
So many compact and subcompact autos on the market designed to handle 9mm +P and hotter ammo have slides that are difficult to manipulate even if you’re strong. That’s because the slides are short and narrow and held in place by stout recoil springs. This is not the case with the EZ.
The rear serrations on the slide from the side appear identical to those found on other M&Ps, but if you view the slide from the top you’ll see a difference. The rear of the slide is wider just behind the rear serrations, and that resulting ledge of steel is a definite help in working the slide. The only other centerfire pistol I’ve seen that has a feature like this is the HK VP9, but the slide “wings” on the VP9 are a polymer insert, whereas with the .380 Shield they’re integral with the slide.
When I picked up the pistol, I was immediately reminded of the .22 LR version of the full-size M&P I reviewed a few years ago because there was no striker cover on the rear of the slide. A quick disassembly showed me that, like the .22, this M&P is not a striker-fired gun but rather one with an internal hammer. There’s a reason for this, and it is related to the ease with which the shooter can cycle the slide.
Pistols in .380 traditionally have strong recoil springs to counteract the force of the fired cartridge because they are straight-blowback guns. The M&P380 has the same tilting-barrel, delayed-blowback operating system as other Shields, so a stiffer recoil spring is not required.
In fact, the recoil spring on the .380 is noticeably lighter than the one found on the 9mm Shield. The lighter recoil spring is one of the reasons the pistol is an internal hammer-fired design as opposed to a striker-fired design. In the latter, the recoil spring has to fight against the striker spring when going into battery. Theoretically, if this was a striker-fired gun, with a strong striker spring and a weak recoil spring, pulling the trigger might cause the slide to move back out of battery.
Smith & Wesson is offering two versions of the .380 EZ, one with an ambidextrous manual thumb safety and one without. The sample the company sent me has the thumb safety, and it is the same design Smith & Wesson has been putting on its M&P pistols for years and functions like the thumb safety on a 1911.
Trigger pull on this pistol was similar to what you’d experience with a standard Shield or M&P. Smith & Wesson says the trigger pull on this pistol will be about five pounds, and the pull on my sample was relatively crisp and measured exactly five pounds.
If you take a look at the trigger, you’ll see it does not have the pivoting safety feature found on striker-fired M&Ps. Instead, the pistol has a grip safety. Because my hands are flat, I often have trouble deactivating the grip safeties of 1911s. I was worried I would have the same problem with the grip safety on the Shield EZ but such was not the case.
You have to depress the top of the lever only about two-thirds of the way toward the frame before it stops. Plus, because it pivots from the bottom—rather than the top like a traditional 1911 grip safety—it seems easier to deactivate. Unlike the grip safety on the Springfield Armory XD/XD(m), you can cycle the slide on the EZ without needing to depress the grip safety.
The M&P380 Shield EZ is also easier to disassemble. With the standard M&Ps, you need to lock the slide to the rear, rotate the takedown lever and then push down on the internal sear lever before you can release the slide so it comes off the gun. Or instead of pushing down on the internal lever, you can just pull the trigger, but Smith & Wesson wants people to know you don’t have to pull the trigger on this gun to disassemble it.
To disassemble the EZ, simply lock the slide to the rear on an empty gun, push down the takedown lever and then release the slide. The slide will come right off the gun without needing to mess with any internal levers.
The EZ is a .380 ACP, but because the design will allow just about everyone to get his or her entire hand on the gun, it recoils like a .22. Now, “recoils like a .22” is overused gun writer hyperbole (which is Latin for B.S.), but in this case it is the absolute truth. When I was shooting the Shield EZ I was struck by how little muzzle rise there was and how little recoil was sent back into my hand. The more I shot it, the more I realized my initial impression was correct: I’ve shot .22s with more recoil. This is impressive considering it weighs just 18.5 ounces empty.
Watching other people shoot the Shield EZ was just as instructive. The gun barely recoils, no matter who is shooting it. For new shooters or those with weak grips, it means the gun doesn’t beat you up. For everyone else it means you can pretty much do full mag dumps as fast as you can pull the trigger and keep all your rounds in a paper plate-size group out to 10 yards.
But the Shield EZ isn’t meant for people like me. It’s aimed at the crowd who have issues with the strong springs on most compact semiautos. After the pistol had been on the market for a few months, I contacted Chris Bauer—a local Detroit CCW instructor who specializes in training women, youth and seniors—and asked him about it. He said he’d had seven women train with the pistol, and they all ended up purchasing one.
“There is no reason this pistol is not going to become as mainstream as the snappy little 9mm Shield for people of all walks of life: young, old, male, female, physically challenged or 100 percent healthy,” he said. “If people are in love with the tiny .380 ACPs, I don’t know why they would not be in love with a .380 you can actually hold, shoot, and shoot really well.” He also told me he’s fired more than 2,000 rounds through the Shield EZ without a single malfunction.
My only issue with the M&P380 Shield EZ was due to the fact that I don’t have weak hands, and because of all the years I carried a 1911 cocked and locked, I shoot everything with a thumb-high hold. I shot the pistol with my right thumb clamped down hard over the top of the safety lever, pressing against the side of the slide. As a result, in combination with the weaker recoil spring, I was able to slow down the slide enough to cause the gun to jam when shooting light ammo.
I don’t think this is an issue most people need to be concerned about because most people don’t shoot with a thumb-high hold, and the kind of people with weak hands who are going to be interested in the potential of this pistol aren’t going to have the kind of grip strength where they can stall the slide like I did.
One of the other endearing specifications I like about this pistol is the price. The suggested retail is just $399, $80 cheaper than a standard 9mm Shield. That’s a heckuva bargain.
You might think the .380 Shield is aimed exclusively at the “compromised grip strength” crowd, but I think this version of the Shield is a better choice than the 9mm for a lot of people regardless of their hand strength.
First, it is soft shooting, so nobody will shy away from practice at the range because the pistol is hurting their hand. It honestly is a fun gun to shoot. Second, sure, the .380 ACP doesn’t have quite the horsepower behind it of a 9mm, but in my opinion, bullet placement is far more important than caliber. A soft-shooting gun you like to shoot, one that allows you to put a whole lot of bullets where you’re aiming—quickly–is a winning proposition.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 SpecsType
: hammer-fired semiautoCaliber
: .380 ACPCapacity
: 3.675 in.OAL/Height/Width
: 6.7/4.7/1.45 (at safety) in.Weight
: 18.5 oz. construction: black polymer frame, black Armornite-finished stainless steel slideSights
: steel 3-dotTrigger
: 5.0 lb. pull (measured)Price
: Smith & Wesson, Smith-Wesson.com