At one of the first firearms training courses I ever took, I saw an elderly woman struggling with a compact 9 mm pocket pistol. Using every ounce of strength, she inched the heavy handgun slide to the rear. Sometimes, she chambered a round. Other times, she didn’t. The Smith & Wesson M&P380 EZ is purpose-built for people like her, people who need a personal-defense pistol that works with their capabilities, not against them.
Built as a personal-defense pistol that’s easily manageable by almost anyone, the new-for-2018 M&P380 Shield is constructed on the same frame and slide size as the company’s popular M&P22 Compact rimfire handgun. However, there are a few notable exceptions.
The frame and slide incorporate all of the external enhancements found on all of the company’s M2.0 pistols. The front of the slide incorporates a thin line of scallops at the bottom to allow for slide manipulation, while the rear features the same undulating serrations used on the M&P and M&P Shield M2.0. On the frame, users will find the aggressive texturing and 18-degree grip angle of the new M2.0 guns, which firmly anchors the pistol in the hands and provides a natural aiming angle.
Not that the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ necessarily needs a solid gripping point to deal with recoil, since recoil is mild on this all-new personal-defense pistol. Traditionally, .380 ACP has been reserved for ever-shrinking pocket pistols built for discreet concealment. However, Smith & Wesson went the other direction with the M&P380. This is one of the largest .380-ACP guns introduced in recent years, and its increased size makes it eminently shootable, lending credence to the “EZ” moniker milled into the slide.
Another “EZ” handling element that features prominently on those first handling the gun is the ease with which the slide can be drawn to the rear. Compared to other personal-defense handguns, particularly compact options currently dominating the market, manipulating the M&P380’s slide is performed with minimal effort, particularly thanks to a lightened slide, reduced recoil-spring tension, an easily cocked internal hammer and tapered serrations that flare out at rear edge of the slide, giving users more leverage during manipulations.
The “EZ” element in the firearm continues to the magazine, where consumers will find a helpful tab located on the side of the skeletonized magazine body. The tab is pulled down easily with a thumb, which relieves spring pressure when loading rounds and makes filling the magazine simple, easy and sore-thumb-free.
In lieu of the hinged-trigger design found on the company’s other Shield models, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ features a single-piece, single-action trigger that provides a clean pull without the mushy takeup of the traditional hinged design. Trigger-pull weight on the text example we shot measured just under 6 pounds. For added security against unintended discharges, each Shield EZ is equipped with a grip safety, and the model tested by SI staff also featured a large, ledge-style thumb safety like that found on the M&P22 Compact. A model without the thumb safety is also available.
In preparation for the launch of the new M&P380 Shield EZ, we headed to the range to put a brief 250 rounds through the gun, observing how it handled and operated with different ammunition types. One thing to note off the bat is that the grip safety engages positively, even with a weak or one-handed grip. The safety selector was also easily engaged and disengaged, though it soon became clear that this gun was purpose-built for shooters with smaller hands. When my thumb rode over the safety ledge during firing, it extended past the safety and engaged the slide-stop lever at times throughout shooting, leading to several instances where the slide did not lock back on an empty magazine. Adjusting the grip to avoid the lever ensured that it locked back consistently and reliably.
There was absolutely no issue getting the gun into battery. One might even say it was “EZ.” In fact, pulling the slide to the rear with just the tip of my thumb and index finger was effortless. The increased size combined with the lower recoil of the .380 ACP also made for an undoubtedly sweet-shooting platform. Even throughout rapid strings of fire, the white, three-dot sights appeared as a level, remaining motionless atop the target and allowing for easy reacquisition of the sight picture.
In terms of ammo choice, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ we tested seemed to prefer particular brands of self-defense fodder. Hornady Critical Defense and Federal Premium HST ran without issue, while a few minor hiccups, an occasional failure to eject or failure to feed, occurred with SIG Sauer V-Crown and the lightweight Inceptor ARX ammo. Those looking to add the Shield EZ to their self-defense setup would do well to thoroughly test their preferred ammo brand through the gun before counting on it for concealed carry or home protection.
Spec-wise, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ features a barrel length of 3.675 inches and ships with two magazines, each with a capacity of eight rounds. The front of the pistol frame offers a Picatinny attachment rail for lights and lasers. Consumers can find the new M&P380 Shield on store shelves starting at the end of February 2018 at a suggested retail price of $399.