Review: Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ

posted on July 23, 2018

It’s a myth buster, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ. You know the myth. Guy goes to buy his “girl” or an aging parent a personal-defense gun and chooses something—small. Small in caliber and small in stature, because “fill in the blank.”

Here’s how the scenario then plays out. Said guy takes girl or dear old dad to the range to try it out and put some lead on some targets and lo and behold, the recipient hates the gun. The muzzle flips, the recoil smacks and if it’s a semi-auto, the new owner might have problems racking the slide. The notion that a small gun will be the perfect fit is most often a myth.

Then, there’s this explanation: “Well, it’s not really a gun for target shooting, so you have to feel the pain.”

And then, the gun never gets taken to the range again and sits in a box, or worse yet, in a bedside safe or holster somewhere—out of sight, out of mind, out of practice.

Enter the new Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ, built to address the concerns of those with arthritis or small hands, and new shooters. Introduced in January 2018, it hails from the illustrious and popular M&P family, which appeared on the gun scene in 2006. This handgun claims its rightful place in the M&P2.0 branch of the family tree, and is chambered in .380 ACP. Smith & Wesson tacked the moniker “EZ” to it for three reasons: easy to manipulate the slide, easy to load and easy to clean.

You may remember the Bodyguard 380, introduced in 2011 and upgraded as the M&P Bodyguard 380 in 2014. It is a popular pocket pistol, along with its brother, the Bodyguard .38 revolver. Smith & Wesson has been taking the pulse of the gun buyers’ market and noticed that baby boomers and female shooters want (and get excited about) a medium-caliber gun they can trust and operate.

Easy Features
The Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ is not a target pistol, but it will certainly deliver 1- to 2-inch groups up to the traditional 7-yard likely defensive-engagement range. Set your targets much farther than that, and you will see some fliers that still fall easily into a center-mass circle, and up to 4-inch spreads.

The Shield EZ’s polymer frame comes with a 3.68-inch stainless steel (with Armornite finish) barrel. Overall, it measures 6.7 inches, which is 1.1 inches longer than one of its popular competitors. It’s slim, at 1.43 inches across the widest part. The slide also is made from stainless steel with Armornite finish, which helps resist corrosion, making this a great gun for summer and hot-weather carry.

(l.) A thumb safety is an option for those who prefer it. (ctr.) A thumb button greatly eases magazine loading. (r.) The grip safety is unobtrusive yet comforting, especially for novices.

Unloaded, the M&P380 Shield EZ weighs in at 18.5 ounces. When loaded, it holds eight rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber. The pistol comes with two magazines equipped with orange followers (thank you, Smith & Wesson, for supplying more than one). Why orange followers? Remember the market that this gun appeals to, and the fact that if you want to do a chamber check, you can easily see orange in the dark.

While on the subject of safety, this gun features three mechanisms: the internal safety, a grip safety and an optional manual, bilateral thumb safety. Here’s the only potential drawback for a new shooter on this gun: You must squeeze the grip firmly, or the grip safety will prevent the gun from firing. However, as you will see, this gun worked well for a senior citizen on the range after she realized she had to grip the gun as if her life depended on it. This is not a bad thing—to stress keeping hand strength at its optimum performance. As startlingly revealed in “The Framingham Heart Study,” half of women age 65 and older cannot lift 10 pounds. If arm strength in older women is that poor, imagine how weak the grip strength is for this group.

(l.) Rising from the barrel hood is the EZ’s loaded-chamber indicator. (ctr.) The 3.7-inch barrel provided solid accuracy at self-defense distances. (r.) The recoil spring is captive to the guide rod, so it won’t be lost during cleaning.

Again, Smith & Wesson thought this potential problem through, and designed the grip with an 18-degree angle, offering a natural point-of-aim. It also applied an enhanced grip texture—enhanced, but not as aggressive as others in the M&P2.0 line of concealed-carry guns—to the back of the grip. There’s also a tactile loaded-chamber indicator, a slender bar located at the top of the slide and to the rear of the ejection port, so you can see and feel if there is a round in the chamber (though a true chamber check is always required to be sure the pistol is empty).

A white-dot front sight and a windage-adjustable, two-white-dot rear sight adorn the topstrap. If you prefer fiber-optic sights or a laser, those items can be added from the aftermarket. In fact, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ sports a Picatinny rail under the front of its frame, ready to hold a light, laser or combo.

(l.) Unlike smaller-frame .380 ACP pistols, the EZ is able to accommodate an accessory rail. (ctr. & r.) White dots come standard, but colored fiber-optic sights are offered in the aftermarket.

The trigger does not disappoint. No mush. It is crisp, light and lets you know with a click when it’s been reset. I like the consistency of it. Sometimes, smaller and less-expensive guns come with triggers that aren’t consistent and feel squishy and gritty. I have checked a few other reviewers’ opinions of this gun, and no one has complained about the trigger. Using my Lyman electronic trigger-pull gauge, I found that my pistol averaged 5 pounds 1.5 ounces for its trigger pull. The lowest pull measured came in at 4 pounds, 9.9 ounces, and the highest was 5 pounds, 6 ounces. Interestingly, the lowest and highest were in succession, on the eighth and ninth pulls out of 10.

Southpaws will be pleased to know the M&P380 Shield EZ can be modified easily for left-handed shooters, because it comes with a bilateral thumb safety, and an interchangeable magazine release.

(l.) Scalloping on the slide aids in racking and is also quite attractive. (r.) The trigger provides a smooth, crisp pull and has a short reset.

Frankly, it didn’t seem as though the EZ’s smoothness of operation changed much at all between the first shots and the last. The only operational problems were ammunition-specific or user-related. The aforementioned elder shooter who initially had difficulty with the grip safety also generated some stovepipe malfunctions because of her weak grip on the pistol. 

Easy to Load
Not only do the magazines have blaze-orange followers, the followers also have thumb buttons on each side—similar to those found on magazines for .22-caliber handguns—for easier loading. I still recommend using an UpLULA loader, especially if you have nice, salon-style nails or want to preserve what nails you’ve got. Large numbers make it easy to quickly see how many rounds you’ve loaded.

Easy to Rack
I did some field tests with the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ. First, I took it to my monthly session for the local The Well Armed Woman chapter. The topic was dry fire, and we spent 2 hours practicing such drills. I asked the chapter members, women aged 21 to 71 years, to try the EZ’s slide. Each could rack the slide, and one woman mentioned that it was even easier than the slide on her new Ruger LC9s. This was to be expected, as the LC9s is a 9 mm and its recoil impulse demands stiffer recoil springs than those for a pistol in .380 ACP. Still, she was impressed by how easily she could rack the slide on the EZ. The EZ has the advantage of being internal-hammer-fired rather than striker-fired, so racking the slide doesn’t require compressing the striker spring as part of the process. Moving the slide to the rear merely cocks the hammer.

(l.) Ease of slide racking was one of the design goals achieved by the EZ. (r.) Small, fish-scale serrations on the front of the slide add to the EZ’s ease of use.

Two of the women, age 64 and 70, asked to try the M&P380 Shield EZ by live firing it on a range. We met a few weeks later at a local range, and while sitting and standing they proceeded to fire the gun at targets from 3 to 7 yards away.

They worked up to shooting at multiple targets, and honed their skills by shooting precision shots. They came back for another range session on another day, and finished by being excited at how well they could shoot the EZ. Subsequently, each ordered an EZ for herself.

Easy to Clean
In order to clean this gun, you don’t need to press the trigger as you do on some other semi-automatic handguns, or fiddle around with a sear deactivation lever as you do with the EZ’s bigger brothers in the M&P line. The field strip disassembly steps for cleaning the EZ are, well, easy. Simply put on your safety glasses, remove the magazine, double-check that the chamber is empty, point the gun’s muzzle in a known safe direction, lock the slide rearward, rotate the take-down lever mounted in front of the slide stop down to the 6 o’clock position, move the slide a little farther back and then forward and off the frame.

I would like to add that this handgun is easy to conceal. With its widest part measuring less than 1.5 inches, the M&P380 Shield EZ can either be tucked into an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster or carried in a concealed-carry bag with ease. It’s not a stubby pocket pistol, and it is reminiscent of a small 9 mm.

Disassembly is as easy as promised with the EZ, and the pistol breaks down without a trigger squeeze.

Easy Does It

I had spent time on the range, firing roughly 300 shots before the women shot the gun. When I went back to do more accuracy testing, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ had sent at least 800 shots downrange.

Initially, I was disappointed with the pistol because I didn’t seem able to shoot the sorts of groups one typically sees in published reviews of handguns. Starting out at 15 yards using sandbags on a bench with three different brands of target and defense ammo, my best five-shot group was .75 inch, but most were in the 2- to 4-inch range and a few were in the 5- to 6-inch range. Deciding that it was nonsensical to evaluate a gun specifically designed for concealed carry and contact range defensive shooting at such a distance, I re-did the accuracy testing for this review at 7 yards using three brands of target and personal-defense ammunition.

While pondering my relatively poor groups at 15 yards, I took a hard look at the EZ’s mechanics to see what might be keeping me from shooting better groups. Of course, I focused on the trigger, the general fit of moving parts—specifically how the slide fit the gun’s frame—and the sights. The trigger was consistent and as good as any polymer-frame striker-fired pistol I’ve shot. In fact, given that the M&P380 Shield EZ has a grip safety, I was surprised at how good the trigger felt. The overall fit of the EZ’s parts was good, and shouldn’t have had an effect on my shooting. The slide-to-frame fit, however, was loose and likely had an effect on the gun’s ability to send projectiles downrange from a consistent launch direction and angle.

Most important, though, the EZ’s sights leave something to be desired from the accuracy standpoint. Naturally, the pistol has a short sight radius, but it was longer than some other competing .380 ACP `handguns I’ve tested. My criticism is with the relative thickness of the front sight compared with the size of the notch in the rear sight. There was too much light on either side of the front sight for a shooter to be able to achieve consistent grouping at “longer” ranges. Maybe the gun’s designers purposely built the sights this way, thinking it would be better for quick target acquisition under the pressure of a gunfight, but my way of thinking is that worrying about sight alignment at contact ranges is silly. At such short distances, you may not even end up using the sights at all, so any sights on the gun are there for longer-range shooting and should be set up for accuracy at greater distances.

I experimented with personal-defense loads and target loads other than those I tested for accuracy, practicing different scenarios and shooting from standing to kneeling. I wanted to see if I could get it to malfunction, but it didn’t ever encounter another stovepipe problem.

Of course, Smith & Wesson backs the M&P380 Shield EZ with a lifetime service policy (“availability subject to applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations, and ordinances”).


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