HANDS-ON REVIEW: Smith-Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ

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Smith-Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ Review

In our handgun classes, I have observed several students, especially those with physical impairments, weak hand and finger strength, mostly females, but some males, and older students with frailties (but also others), not able to efficiently rack the slides on some of our semi-automatic pistols. This is even after we demonstrate and discuss the proper techniques for slide racking and with our practice sessions. The primarily push technique, rather than the solely pull technique, as presented in my book and classes, does work well for most individuals, calibers, and models. But, some still have trouble racking any slide. I was glad to see Smith & Wesson introduce their new M&P 380 Shield EZ to meet these needs and offer other “EZ” features to help folks.

What Does “EZ” Represent?

For this new gun, S&W focused on its easiness to rack and operate… “EZ.” This is catchy, but a nice definitive term. As S&W says in their recent announcement:

“The new M&P 380 Shield EZ is built for personal protection, and every-day carry… and is designed to be easy to use, featuring an easy-to-rack slide, easy-to-load magazine, and easy-to-clean design.”

Well, I had to explore this for myself and you, so I handled and shot it and rated it on each of my ten specific criteria. I give my sincere, honest, and direct opinions. As I did when I was an NCAA football official in Texas and Florida, I “call them as I see them.” Of course, everybody does, and you should be straightforward with yourself and for your criteria as well.

First, I want to give you some of the Shield EZ specifications and features for this new .380 Shield EZ pistol, as well as my first impressions and opinions after handling and shooting it. I want to thank S&W for sending me one of their first new EZ pistols for hands-on range testing. Below are my opinions, ratings for each of my criteria, and analysis to help you. Incidentally, S&W and manufacturers do not pay me for my reviews and I am not on the S&W payroll nor influenced for my ratings, opinions, and recommendations. I want to be as objective as possible and sincerely enjoy helping folks.

S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ Review

S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ Specs

Grip Safety on the M&P 380 Shield EZ

One interesting feature of the new M&P 380 Shield is its grip safety. A few other manufacturers currently offer this, like Springfield Armory, Remington, and of course, John Moses Browning who built it into his 1911s in addition to the thumb safety. There is evidence of early Colt 1903 and 1907 models with a grip safety. S&W had a “Safety Hammerless” revolver in the late 1880s with a grip safety. Maybe you remember “bad guy” Kao Kan with his S&W Safety Hammerless revolver in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The H&K P7 Series has a type of grip safety where the front of the grip must be squeezed to fire them. Even the Uzi submachine gun has a grip safety. So this is not new, and others have successfully used the grip safety. One caution some students learned the hard way is that if not gripped correctly, a gun with a grip safety will not fire. Some like them and some do not. Your call! So be careful and safety first.

Grip Safety and Grip Texturing on M&P 380 Shield EZ
Grip Safety and Grip Texturing on M&P 380 Shield EZ

Another feature that I really like on this pistol and on all the M&Ps with the M.20 is the just-right texturing on the grip. It makes for a very firm and solid grasp of the gun, without a lot of abrasion.

Criteria and Considerations for the S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ Review

Here are just ten of my criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the 380 Shield EZ. In addition to my criteria, other subjective features may be appealing for some. For example, a specific style, mag release location, action, caliber, appearance, number of mags included, type of sights/modifications, bore axis, rail, grip angle, non-porting or porting, added extras like a holster and pouch, customer service, etc. So, I combined these into my last Miscellaneous criterion.

I must admit that all gun-choice decisions involve tradeoffs, but I really want a gun to meet all of my criteria. I assigned a total possible point score of 10 points for each of my ten criteria for a total possible score of 100 points. You can certainly add your own additional criteria and preferences or subtract any of mine.

Recognize that there are several features, characteristics, pros and cons, and personal criteria to include and consider and you make your own tradeoffs according to your priorities, preferences, defined needs, and use.

380 Shield EZ Target Hits: 15 rounds - 5 Circles @ 3 Hits Each - Draw and Rapid Fire - 3 Yards
380 Shield EZ Target Hits: 15 rounds – 5 Circles @ 3 Hits Each – Draw and Rapid Fire – 3 Yards

Range Testing of the New S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ

The fifteen hits shown above are with the Shield EZ and my standard Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill.

The above photo shows my actual 15 rapid-fire targets hits from the draw and a mag change with the Shield EZ using my Concealed Carry Drill, at the self-defense distance of three yards, and with the five circle targets. Note that one of my fifteen shots hit on the line of the 2.5″ circle and counts. I must admit that this was my third try to get my hits within twenty seconds. But, I finally did get three hits in each of the five circles… and right at the twenty seconds. It had to be the unfamiliar gun, the too powerful ammo, or my wife yelling at me about the time. Right! It truly was a fun challenge for me. But I did get my hits… finally. Hope you can do better with your .380.

This drill was more difficult than I expected for this new, small and very lightweight .380 EZ pistol. The mag change was a challenge, and the first mag had eight rounds, and I loaded the second one with just seven rounds for my drill. However, I did get fifteen hits that counted out of the fifteen shots I fired, and I squeaked by and met the 20-Seconds Goal and the 80% to pass. I really like this Shield EZ .380 pistol and its slightly longer 3.6″ barrel helped my control and shot placement. I hope you might use my Drill as your warm-up Concealed Carry Drill but be safe with it. It is available for download from my website. Below are my evaluations, opinions, and ratings for each of my ten criteria.

At the range to test and evaluate the Shield EZ, I shot about two hundred rounds of various FMJ and JHP .380 ACP ammo. I shot one hundred rounds of Sig Sauer FMJ 100 grain and forty rounds of Sig Sauer JHP Elite V-Crown 90 grain, which Sig Sauer was kind enough to provide. I bought some other rounds so I could see the Shield EZ performance with various loads, types, and brands. I bought fifty rounds of Blazer Brass FMJ 95 grain to test the EZ. I shot targets at close-up distances of three, five, seven, and ten yards.

One caveat to recognize is that any gun should be “broken-in” with about 400-500 rounds or so fired for a better evaluation of its performance. So recognize that I did not shoot that many rounds.

Remember, the gold standard is for you to actually shoot and handle the gun yourself to learn your accuracy with it and things about it like I did. Let me say up front that for me for any gun, accuracy and reliability are most important. Closely related to that is the handgun’s trigger, so I focused on it and its characteristics and control. I used my Lyman Electronic Digital Trigger Pull Gauge and averaged readings to measure the press. See results below. Additional factors considered were fit and comfort to my hand and fingers, gun weight, felt recoil, gun width and height for easy concealability, caliber, capacity, safety features, and appearance. Overall length was not a major criterion, except for its relationship to sight radius and reduction of felt recoil. The cost was not a factor.

Here’s what I discovered after shooting and hands-on handling of the M&P 380 Shield EZ .380 pistol.

1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score: 10

The accuracy and reliability were excellent for me at close distances of three, five, and seven yards, and acceptable at ten yards. The first fifty rounds I shot I noticed that ALL my POI hits (POI=Point of Impact) were 2″ to 3″ below my point of aim. While I usually like and use the Center Mass Sight Picture, I found I had to use the Cover-Up (Dead-On) Sight Picture for this .380 EZ. Once I covered up the bullseye circles with my new sight picture, my hits were right on. My POI = POA. So know ahead to use the Cover-Up sight picture for this gun. My rapid-fire groups were then all about 2.5 inches or less for the circle targets. For a short barrel & lightweight pistol, this .380 handled very well & was accurate. I did find I shot the FMJ rounds better than the JHPs. Because of the soft recoil & easy slide racking and reloading, my shot placements were easy, and the gun operated smoothly. I used my usual Modified-Isosceles Standing Stance, a two-handed grip, and shot rapid fire after my draw using mostly point shooting. I looked good for an old timer with my soda-bottle thick glasses. I had no malfunctions or stoppages.

Read More: How To Fix Scattered Handgun Target Hits: Sight Picture, Windage, Elevation, and More

M&P 380 Shield Review
Shield EZ’s Trigger, Enlarged Mag Release, Takedown Lever, Slide Lock, and Thumb Safety

2. Trigger Press – Score: 9

The trigger press after shooting the two hundred rounds averaged a little less than five pounds, with ten readings by my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. I would call it a 4.9 pounds press overall. A nice, light, short, and soft press. Before I shot the gun, the press averaged about 5.5 pounds. This was perfect for me, and my wife and this brand new pistol is not “broken in” yet. It was not too light and was controllable. This was not distracting for my accuracy and allowed me to minimize my movement to get very good shot placement. I liked its crispness and short reset.

3. Trigger – Score: 10

The trigger had a nice, short travel distance, a very identifiable reset, and was smooth. I could easily get off quick follow-up shots and keep them on target. My shots were consistent each time with this internal hammer-fired, single-piece, single-action (Non-Striker-Non Hinged) trigger. I like the one-piece, single-action trigger for its crisp press with tactile and audible trigger reset. The trigger’s reset was one of the best tactile, audible, and identifiable resets. This .380 had a great trigger, and this gun shoots very well.

4. Barrel Length – Score: 9

The EZ’s 3.675-inch Stainless Steel Barrel handled and shot great, and it was concealable on my waist at about the 4 O’Clock position. It is a very nice gun, but not my top choice for my EDC for concealed carry because of its caliber and some of its dimensions. But, some folks will make the trade-off for the caliber in favor of its EZ racking, loading, operations, and its thin width. It is a small, and lightweight gun and I easily handled the recoil. My wife and I had no control problems at all. This small, lightweight gun was very manageable. To help with control, I could definitely get all my three strong-hand fingers on the grip, without pinky dangle. The short 5.65″ sight radius was just right and not a distraction. The barrel has a stainless steel finish, great grip, & reminds me of my other M&Ps.

5. Sights – Score: 9

The standard white-dot sights were fine. Although, I do prefer a fiber optic front sight and tritium night sights. Its three white dots are fine, but tritium sights really help me. The rear white-dot sights worked fine and were adjustable for windage. I wish night sights were available now and included, but at this time night sights are not available. After shooting the gun at first, I noticed my target hits were consistently about 2-3 inches or so below the bullseye at various distances when using my Center Mass Sight Picture, which I prefer. So, I changed to a Cover-Up, Dead-On Sight Picture and my hits were right on. I had another instructor and an experienced shooter try it and they were getting the same results. Remember that when shooting it.

6. Proper Gun Weight – Score: 10

The weight of the gun is about eighteen ounces empty, and this is certainly nice and lightweight with its polymer frame. So, there was very little felt recoil. This .380 is very manageable for concealed carry and very nice for a BUG. Its weight was a little heavier than some other current .380s, so the slight additional weight made it heavier for better recoil control, comfort, and accuracy. Of course, this is personal preference.

7. Caliber – Score: 8

The .380 caliber is fine for me for a backup gun (BUG) and a pocket gun as insurance which is small and easy to conceal. This gun works for that and my wife liked this small, and lightweight gun for tradeoff with her other .380s for occasional purse carry, given her slight physical limitations. But, I prefer the 9mm caliber, used with appropriate ammo with the right ballistics for primary EDC (Every Day Carry) concealed carry. The .380 911 is a nice lightweight and quality carry gun that I would pocket carry. But, I believe that larger-diameter bullets produce more devasting wound cavities and have a higher likelihood of striking vital organs in self-defense situations but you must carry it. There is little doubt that a bigger hole drops an assailant faster, as they lose vital blood and fluids. Ballistics have advanced a lot recently with improvements in bullet designs and propellants, etc. For me, the .380 performs fine at close ranges of about 3 yards and less, so my Concealed Carry Drill works to test it. Remember, shot placement is king! The felt recoil of this EZ .380 is tolerable & controllable to help with shot placement.

Choose the highest caliber handgun that you can comfortably and reliably shoot and make fast, accurate followup shots with, for your purpose. This applies for concealed carry, self-defense, home defense, and even competition. You want a gun that you like, can control and will carry and not leave at home if carrying concealed. This .380 would not be left at home. A very personal and individualistic choice!

8. Capacity – Score: 9

Capacity is a concern of mine for any handgun, especially one for concealed carry purposes. While there were two magazines included, eight rounders, a third was not included. Given the fine grip, the flush mag felt great in my hands and gave me a solid grasp. The capacity did work just fine, especially for a BUG or pocket pistol. The EZ’s magazine has a helpful tab on the side which can be easily pulled down with the thumb to relieve spring pressure to help with loading the mag, without sore thumbs. Similar to all my .22 pistols.

380 Shield EZ Review

9. Ergonomics – Score: 9

Overall, the Ergonomics of the M&P 380 Shield EZ were very good. And it looks great and matches my other M&Ps in design, grip, function, and many ways. This Shield does not have a hinged trigger. The M2.0 enhanced grip texture was great and was very comfortable. I could easily reach the controls, and the grip safety was not a problem at all but served as an added safety. The grip safety positively engages, even when I tried a one-handed grip. And its low bore axis also helped my control. I like its 18-degree grip angle. This is a reliable gun, and I did not have any malfunctions at all. The slide lock lever, safety lever, and mag release button were all easy to locate and operate quickly. I liked the Tactile Loaded Chamber Indicator on top of the slide, so I could see and feel if a round was chambered. All mags did drop freely and quickly. The ergonomic features helped with my felt recoil and muzzle flip control. The width was nice and thin for both me (and my medium-sized hands) and my wife’s smaller hands.

M&P 380 Shield EZ Review

10. Miscellaneous – Score: 10

As always before shooting any new gun, I disassembled, lubed, cleaned, and re-assembled the EZ before I shot it. I did not have to press the trigger to disassemble.

The MSRP price of the gun at less than $400 which is very good and you can probably buy it for less soon. Certainly, reasonable for the quality and features you get.

I like the EZ load magazine design with the load-assist button for quick and easy loading. The EZ’s enhanced and tapered, scalloped front and rear serrations that stick out make for an easy grasp and operation of the slide.

It does come with an owner’s manual, cable lock, and two mags in a cardboard box, to help save some costs. It does not include other things like some have, e.g., a mag pouch, cleaning brush, holster or the third mag. Decide the tradeoffs you can live with and not pay extra for. There are several very nice features for this quality internal hammer-fired single-action gun. There is not a magazine disconnect safety, so it will fire with the mag out. The Sig Sauer Elite Performance FMJ ammo worked better for me for accuracy than the V-Crown JHP in this .380 pistol. Both are excellent rounds.

Holsters for the S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ

I discovered that my 9mm holsters for my CZ P-10CSpringfield EMP 4 Contour, and H&K P30 worked for the M&P 380 Shield EZ, because of their similar dimensions, like barrel length, overall length, and height. But, I do suggest for safety reasons that you get a custom-fitted holster specifically for the EZ .380.

The 380 Shield EZ has a Lifetime Service Warranty.

Total Points = 93 out of 100 Possible

I certainly recommend this quality M&P 380 Shield EZ pistol for consideration as a concealed carry or a backup gun (BUG.) It also can be considered as a pocket pistol, but in my opinion not as an EDC. The .380 caliber is not my preferred 9mm for personal protection.

But it has many outstanding features and benefits. Its accuracy, reliability, lightweight eighteen ounces, narrow 1.05″ width, quality build, its smooth, crisp trigger, the excellent textured grip, the controllable recoil, and very easy slide racking are excellent. This latter feature works fine for those physically impaired or with weak strength in hands and fingers.

I really like and have no concern about its grip safety and would use this gun as a BUG. But, practice using the grip safety to get used to it, especially before you use it for personal protection. This is an added safety measure. The Shield EZ fit my wife’s dainty hands nicely, and she and some experienced seniors really liked how easy it was to rack and operate, with their minor limitations.

I hope this review of the SW M&P 380 Shield EZ pistol has helped you gain some information you did not previously have. See my ranking of my Top 21 CC handguns in the second printing of my book “Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials.” Consider that these are just my opinions with limited live-range fire and shooting only about 200 rounds of ammo. Like always, I recommend that you shoot any handgun yourself before you purchase it. Decide on your criteria, how you will primarily use the gun, and what features are important to you, and you are willing to pay for ahead of your range time. Then critically evaluate the gun yourself per your criteria and purpose, with standard drills (download my Concealed Carry Drill on my website for free), with various ammo types and brands, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds. Remember, Safety First Always!

Success and Be Safe!

Contacts:

Smith & Wesson for M&P 380 Shield EZ M2.0
1-800-331-0852

Sig Sauer for Elite V-Crown 9mm JHP-FMJ ammo
1-603-610-3000
Newington, NH 03801

Photos/Images by Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2018 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].