As the concealed carry market has matured, the draw of the single stack pistol has become stronger. Smith & Wesson stepped into this niche in 2012 with the M&P Shield. Offered in both 9mm and .40 S&W, the gun was an instant hit.
However, the gun was equipped with a thumb safety – something many people did not want. So, two years later, S&W offered the Shield without the lever. These guns were also an overnight sensation.
I picked up a Smith and Wesson M&P9 Shield without the thumb safety last year and have been running it pretty hard since then. This is my review of the gun.
At its core, the Shield is a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol. The pistol falls into the broad category of compact handguns. It has a 3.1″ barrel and is quite thin.
Less than 1″ thick, the 9mm Shield is considered to be an ideal width by some for concealed carry. After all, a thin gun is easier to conceal than a thick one. Part of the reason Smith & Wesson’s design team was able to make it so thin is that the magazines are single stacked. This reduces potential capacity, but also keeps the width to a minimum.
The 9mm version ships with two magazines. One is a flush fitting 7-round model, while the other is an extended mag that holds 8 rounds. Specific details on the extended magazine are listed in the shooting section below.
For this review, I am evaluating the 9mm Shield that does not have the external safety. However, Smith & Wesson offers other versions of the gun to reach different segments of the market.
Essentially the guns are sold in two models: with and without thumb safeties. Further, chamberings in 9mm and .40 caliber are offered in both models. Additionally, the company sells California (pre-microstamp regulation) and Massachusetts compliant versions of the basic models.
The .40 S&W versions of the gun are the same external size, but have one less round capacity in the magazines: six in the flush fit and seven in the extended magazine.
When the Shield was originally introduced at the 2012 NRA show, the gun had a tiny thumb safety as a standard feature. Some people liked the safety, but a lot did not. Responding to consumer demand, Smith & Wesson released a “safety-less” version of the gun in 2014.
As most readers will realize, the M&P Shield still has multiple safeties to help prevent accidental discharges. The only thing removed from the new guns is the small thumb safety located on the rear portion of the gun’s frame.
There is a fear by some that the safety may be engaged accidentally while being carried. Should a user pull the gun to defend against an attack, the safety could slow the response to the threat. I share this fear.
While that might seem like a far-fetched concern, I have spoken to trainers who have seen safeties accidentally engaged in training. This would suggest that the problem is not as far-fetched as one might assume.
I was concerned that Smith & Wesson might simply plug the hole on the existing Shield frame when they released the new guns. However, the company appears to run a separate frame for these pistols so there is no hole, plug or other blemish indicating where the safety might have otherwise gone. Well done, S&W.
When the M&P Shield was announced, Smith & Wesson stated the guns would have an enhanced trigger. The original M&P pistols, both full size and compact, were well received by the public. However, many people did not like the triggers and turned to companies like Apex Tactical for trigger enhancement kits.
I was curious to feel the difference between my original M&P9 and the 9mm Shield.
Based purely on feel, the original M&P9 trigger has a soft, almost spongy, take up with a clean break. The reset is soft and easily missed. The Shield, on the other hand, has a short take up with a heavier pull to break. The reset is a little more obvious, but still not as good as an Apex Tactical kit. You can get an Apex Tactical kit for the Shield by clicking here.
I whipped out my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge and ran a series of 10 pulls on each gun. The numbers reflected what I felt: the full-size M&P9 averaged 5 pounds, 5.5 ounces while the Shield averaged 7 pounds 3.5 ounces.
|magazine capacity||7 rounds|
|sights||three-dot, drift adjustable|
In the Wild
Specs and marketing hype notwithstanding, the real test of a self-defense gun’s usefulness is on the range and on the street. If the gun isn’t reliable and accurate or is just a pain in the butt to carry, I don’t have much use for it in a self-defense role.
I’m happy to say the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield delivered.
On the Range
I’ve had the Shield on the range quite a few times for target practice, but really wrung it out last summer in Ohio.
I had the chance to meet with Paul Carlson of the Safety Solutions Academy, Grant Cunningham of the Personal Security Institute, and a number of local cops and shooters at a range outside of Cleveland. I had some shooting and photography to do for a number of projects and these guys were willing to help me out and share a meal afterward.
We ran the Shield with at least 12 different kinds of ammunition. There were at least four different shooters of varying hand sizes and experience that ran the gun. Across the board, everyone agreed that shooting the Shield was a breeze.
The best part was it ran without any malfunction of any kind.
Since that initial range time, I’ve had the Shield on the firing line at least a dozen times. It has continued to work without any problems at all. I haven’t kept track of a round count, but more than 1,000 rounds through the Shield seems about right to me.
Regular readers of this site will know that I don’t measure and report group sizes. Frankly, my shooting skill has a larger influence on accuracy that the gun. Saying that I shot a x” group at y yards doesn’t really tell you much about the gun, just how I was shooting that day. Frankly, my shooting skill does not approach the potential accuracy of most firearms.
I like to test a gun’s practical accuracy by making sure I can put all rounds in an 8″ target at 25 yards and rapidly fire a magazine into the same size target at 7 yards. If the gun can do those things, then I am reasonably sure it will be accurate enough for self-defense.
As I mentioned, I was at a range in Cleveland. New to the facility, I started shooting an 8″ metal gong at the end of the pistol range. It looked a little longer than 25 yards, but I wasn’t sure of the distance. After hitting the gong nearly 100% with two magazines, I discovered the distance was just under 50 yards. I figure that is more than good enough for my needs.
Recoil and Feel
Recoil is modest. The 9mm cartridge is a high pressure round, but is often thought of as a “mild” shooter. This is because a lot of people only shoot 9mm from a large frame gun line a Beretta M9 or SIG SAUER P226. Pack the cartridge into a small, light pistol – or even a 9mm revolver – and the gun’s recoil might surprise you.
Fortunately, the M&P Shield has a good grip on recoil management. When shooting even the stout Federal BPLE +P+ load, I had no problem controlling the recoil and muzzle rise. Putting a magazine into an 8″ circle at 7 yards was easy no matter how fast I pulled the trigger.
When shooting the Shield, there is only one thing I do not like about it: the narrowness of the backstrap at the web of the hand.
One of the gun’s major selling points is its thinness. It is one of the reasons why I really like it. However, the backstrap follows the general curve shape of the larger M&P pistols. In the Shield, this creates a much more narrow point of interface between the gun and the hand. That means the recoil forces are directed into a narrower portion of the hand.
If Smith & Wesson retained the same overall thickness, but did not taper the backstrap in so much, the recoil force would be spread over a wider portion of the hand. I personally think Springfield Armory did an excellent job with this on the XD-S pistol.
Is the recoil too much? Nope. Is it painful? Nope. I just think a small design change could have made the gun even more comfortable to shoot and handle without impacting its ability to carry or conceal.
Magazine Change Problems
Magazine changes are pretty standard with the flush fitting (7 round) magazine. Press the button and it drops free. However, things get a little sticky with the extended magazine.
The extended mag (8 rounds) extends below the frame of the pistol. The magazine uses a standard base plate, but adds a polymer sleeve to fill the gap between the base and the gun frame. In theory, this sleeve serves two purposes:
- it fills the area around the magazine body so the hand has something more substantial to grasp, and
- it acts as a spacer so that the magazine does not hit the ejector when the mag is slammed into place.
The sleeve does these things well, but also introduces two problems.
First, the sleeve adds a substantial piece of polymer at the rear of the magazine. This portion is essentially a continuation of the backstrap. While aesthetically pleasing, it has the unfortunate tendency to catch on the meaty portion of my shooting hand and not allow the magazine to drop free from the pistol.
Yes, it is unlikely I will need to change magazines in a self-defense shooting. However, if I need to, I do not want this spacer to make it harder than it should be. Don’t think I’m picking on the Shield; I had the same problem with the Springfield Armory XD-S.
The second problem with the sleeve is that it can move when carried as a back up. If you carry the extended magazine anywhere but in the gun, the sleeve can move down the body of the mag. If you need to reload, that sleeve being out of position can prevent you from getting the magazine seated in the gun and back in the fight.
(Ed. note: Initially, the MagFIX was called the Plan B. This section of the review has been updated to reflect the name change and to include information about the production MagFIX products that are now available through Amazon, eBay and other sites. You can read my MagFIX review here.)
While we were first shooting the Shield, Carlson advised he had seen the same problems with the Shield in his training classes. After a student removed the factory spacer then broke a Shield ejector on a magazine change, Carlson realized another solution was needed.
Since then, Carlson developed and patented a new magazine base pad for the Shield called the MagFIX. This pad replaces the stock pad and sleeve with a unit that gives the shooter the benefits of the stock sleeve while not hanging up on the hand when reloading.
Additionally, the Plan B adds tiered wings on the base pad that allow the shooter to more easily strip the magazine from the pistol should a double feed occur. The MagFIX is in production and available for your Shield on Amazon here.
|Federal BPLE 115 gr JHP +P+||1,157 fps||342 ft-lb|
|Federal HST 124 gr +P||1,085 fps||324 ft-lbs|
|Federal Hydra-Shok 135 gr JHP||958 fps||275 ft-lb|
|Hornady 135 gr Critical Duty||929 fps||259 ft-lb|
|Hornady Critical Duty 135 gr +P||1,010 fps||306 ft-lb|
|Hornady American Gunner 124 gr XTP +P||1,036 fps||296 ft-lbs|
|Hornady Critical Defense 115 gr FTX||1,065 fps||290 ft-lbs|
|HPR 115 gr JHP||1,017 fps||264 ft-lb|
|HPR 124 gr JHP||911 fps||228 ft-lb|
|Liberty Ammunition 50 gr JHP||1,844 fps||377 ft-lb|
|Remington Golden Saber 124 gr JHP +P||1,115 fps||342 ft-lb|
|Remington UMC 115 gr FMJ||1,034 fps||273 ft-lb|
|SIG SAUER Elite Performance 115 gr FMJ||1,050 fps||282 ft-lbs|
|SIG SAUER Elite Performance V-Crown 124 gr JHP||989 fps||269 ft-lbs|
|SIG SAUER Elite Performance V-Crown 147 gr JHP||863 fps||243 ft-lbs|
|Speer Gold Dot 124 gr JHP||996 fps||273 ft-lb|
|Speer Gold Dot 124 gr Short Barrel||1,078 fps||320 ft-lb|
|Winchester 115 gr FMJ (white box)||1,040 fps||276 ft-lb|
|Winchester PDX1 Defender 124 gr +P||1,092 fps||328 ft-lbs|
Performance measured with a Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital Chronograph at an approximate distance of 15' from the muzzle of the pistol. All measurements are an average of five shots.
Please note that I also ran Winchester PDX1 147 grain ammo through the gun. It ran 100% reliably as well. However, I managed to lose my notes with that ammo’s chronograph results.
I was fortunate enough to be offered a pair of evaluation holsters from Dara Holsters for the Shield. Dara sent me out a pair of holsters: one IWB and one OWB. I’ll have a full review on these holsters shortly. (Update: Click here to see the Dara Holster review.)
Both of these rigs allow me to carry the Shield very easily with all kinds of clothing choices. If I’m working around the house, that typically means cargo shorts and a t-shirt. If I’m running around town, it might be something more formal: jeans and a polo. Even with dress slacks and a jacket, these rigs worked very well for me.
The Shield concealed nicely and was noticeably lighter than a fully loaded Glock 19 that I often carry.
I did try the Shield as a pocket carry gun, but was displeased with it in this role. To me, the gun seemed too large in even the pockets of my cargo shorts. I’d recommend trying the Shield out in a gun store prior to buying if this is the way you want to carry it.
I’ve put together a list of M&P Shield holsters here. Also, I reviewed the A.R.C. holster from Blackhawk with the M&P Shield here.
The Smith & Wesson Shield is just about the perfect single stack 9mm pistol. For some people it will be the perfect choice, but while I like it a great deal, it comes up a little short of complete perfection in my estimation.
What I Liked
First, the gun ran 100% will every kind of ammunition I threw at it. Take a look at the spec chart above and you can see I fed it standard pressure through +P+, all kinds of bullet types and even bullet weights from 50 grains through 147 grains.
Secondly, the gun was more than accurate enough for self-defense. Ringing a gong at 50 yards was no problem with this compact pistol. Close in, the gun was extremely accurate as well. Recoil was moderate and allowed for fast follow up shots.
Third, the gun is very reasonably priced. The suggested retail price is $449, and I’ve seen these selling for less than $400 in several places. Less than $400 for a reliable self-defense pistol is a good buy.
Lastly, the guns are thin, light and easy to conceal. If you are looking for a CCW gun, the 9mm Shield is one of the easier guns to carry.
Where the Shield Can Improve
There are only two things that I would like to see Smith & Wesson change about the pistol. The first is a slight redesign of the backstrap to spread out the felt recoil impulse.
The second is to improve the extended magazine situation. For me, the obvious solution is the MagFIX, and Smith & Wesson should use that design or something very similar to it. But, the existing sleeve is a problem that could really get someone in a jam. Update these two things and this is a five-star gun.
I strongly recommend the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield without the thumb safety to anyone needing a CCW or personal defense handgun. You can purchase your own Shield from Brownells by clicking here.
In all of my reviews, I want to be completely transparent about how I obtained the gun and what, if any, relationships exist between me and the company whose product I am reviewing.
This Smith and Wesson Shield was loaned to me as a T&E (testing & evaluation) gun for a review in Combat Handguns magazine and on this site. After shooting the gun, I decided to purchase it. Since the gun was used when I arrived, I did receive a discount off of the suggested retail price.
Although the conclusions in the Combat Handguns article is the same as in this review, this article is unique and not merely a copy of that article. Everything you read here is a fresh writing and with the perspective of several additional months of shooting and carrying.
Smith & Wesson is not an advertiser at the time of this writing. Nor am I in any discussions with them to be one. I was not encouraged to write a positive review of this gun by anyone.
Some links on this page and on this site are affiliate links to Amazon and Brownells. This means that if you click the link and buy something from that company, I receive a small referral fee from that company. This does not alter your price in any way, but it does help me feed my family and keep this site running. More information about these links and your privacy can be found here.
Please share your thoughts and experiences with the S&W Shield in the comments section below.
After more than a year with the pistol, I wanted to update everyone with my experiences thus far.
I still really like this pistol, and it continues to run well. I’ve put about 500 additional rounds through it, and my wife has put about that same number through it as well. I’ve added new chronograph data to the ammunition performance chart above. You will now find 19 different loads in the table that I’ve tested in the pistol.
My wife was in the market for a new CCW gun and put this head-to-head against the Glock 43, Kahr CM9 and Walther PPS (original version.) Although she liked different features on all of them, this was the gun she kept and now carries daily. I trust the gun to defend her life, and I’m not sure if I could say anything more positive about the pistol than that. (Ed. note: After Walther updated the PPS to the PPS M2, my wife has moved to that gun as a full-time, carry everywhere gun. I continue to regularly carry this pistol and continue to recommend them.)
Also, since this article was written, Smith & Wesson announced a .45 ACP version of the Shield. The new guns have a variety of changes, and are slightly larger than the originals. So, the same holsters will not fit. If you have one of the M&P45 Shield pistols, click here to see the holsters available for it.