Gun Test: S&W M&P .380 Shield EZ
By Jeff John, GUNS Magazine
Nine to Five ain’t just a movie title: The S&W Shield EZ isn’t much larger than a J-Frame .38. But it’s flatter and holds those nine rounds.
If you have trouble working today’s semi autos, look no further than the S&W M&P P380 Shield EZ 2.0. The key thing to look at is the “EZ” — because that’s exactly what it is. By building a bigger, locked-breech .380, S&W made manipulation easier for those with hand-strength issues. Even with the hammer down, cocking effort is only 12 lbs., and about a half-pound less if the pistol is cocked. And a semi-auto action is easier on hands and wrists because it extends the felt recoil duration.
The new Shield EZ is lightweight at 21.5 ozs. with a full 8+1 payload of 95-gr. ammo. It’s got an ambidextrous thumb safety (you can order it without one), a grip safety, internal firing-pin block, full-length grip — all my fingers fit, and mag changes don’t pinch my pinky — easy-to-see 3-dot sights and an accessory rail.
The frame is polymer, and the slide and 3-5/8″ barrel are of stainless steel with an Armornite finish. Overall length is 6.7″, providing a longer sight radius than most of its contemporaries, and it comes with two magazines, all for a budget-friendly $399 MSRP.
S&W’s Shield EZ has excellent nightstand manners, especially when equipped with the Crimson Trace Rail Master Green Laser. The A.G. Russell Ti FIST is a “one-finger flick” folder as easy to deploy as the pistol.
Hornady’s Critical Defense 90-gr. FTX bullet and their more-affordable American Gunner have bumped up the performance of the .380 ACP.
Along with stylish serrations at the back of the slide are two small “wings” at the end of the slide. They don’t rise so high they become snag points as they’re “melted” into the slide some, but really give your fingers the extra leverage.
The trigger is smooth and light and has only a hint of take-up before breaking at 4-3/4 lbs. If you like single-action autos, you’ll adapt to this one fast. The triggerguard’s inside mold-line is light, and didn’t raise the usual blister other polymer-frame guns give me. There’s also no “in-the-middle-of-the-trigger-face” safety lever either.
The extractor rises above the ejection port to provide a tactile loaded-chamber indicator and the fixed 3-dot sights are windage-adjustable only. They give a great sight picture, but as my eyes age I prefer a bit more daylight between the front blade and rear notch. I’m sure there will be after-market sights for the EX soon if you want a change.
The gun will fire with the magazine removed, which I think is a good thing. The mag catch is reversible and easy to reach and the mag well is generously sized for fumble-free changes. The mags drop free easily too. The slide stop — directly above the mag catch — is unobtrusive, and due to its rounded shape, it’s easy to manipulate.
Not a tiny “pocket” gun like most .380s, the EZ is specifically made to be fumble-resistant, with controls and surfaces scaled to be manipulated easily even by people with limited strength and mobility. Photo: Roy Huntington
The day’s accuracy winner was Fiocchi’s JHP and Black Hills’ HoneyBadger. These 9-shot groups were shot at 15 yards. Jeff’s POA was dead center of the Pro Shot Splatter targets.
You don’t have to squeeze the trigger to fieldstrip this gun. The takedown latch is on the left side under the ejection port, so you just clear the gun, lock the slide back and depress the lever. Then ease the slide forward, and push it forward off the frame with your thumb. The recoil spring is captured, and won’t fly loose. The head of the guide is diamond-shaped and the spring must be oriented correctly upon reassembly. But all in all, the EZ is easy.
I shot 2-handed offhand groups at 15 yards from a rifle rest mounted to a camera tripod. Before grouping the gun, I shot it for fun at clay targets to break it in and get a feel for it. During the first couple hundred rounds there were a couple of minor fumbles where the slide didn’t go into battery once and a stove pipe with a loaded cartridge surprised me. But once I hit the 200-round mark, things sailed along. That’s not uncommon when breaking in a new semi-auto so keep that in mind when you buy one. Things need to “settle in” some and it’s perfectly normal. One maker even recommends at least 500 rounds to break-in.
The Sights are of the 3-dot variety. The loaded chamber indicator looks like it’s high enough to interfere with sighting, but it doesn’t.
The “Short 9” Shines
Modern bullet technology has enabled the current crop of .380 loads to punch far above their weight. All I used shot to about the same point-of-aim vertically at 15 yards, with some veering a little more left than others. The average for all the groups was just over 3″ with a few groups going well under. Three loads tested — Black Hills JHP (935 fps), Fiocchi JHP (904 fps) and Hornady American Gunner (945 fps) feature Hornady’s proven 90-gr. XTP. All three were 100 percent reliable and the most controllable.
The hotter Hornady Critical Defense — topped with the 90-gr. FTX — stepped out at 968 fps and features low-flash propellants. It has a plastic tip filling the hollowpoint to aid expansion and keep the cavity from filling with material that might restrict expansion.
One other specialty load I tried was Black Hills HoneyBadger, featuring a Lehigh Defense 60-gr. bullet at an impressive 1,137 fps. This load shot to the same vertical point of aim as the heavier ones but to the left a bit. A non-expanding load, the HoneyBadger bullet is nonetheless highly effective and its light weight still assures up to 18″ of penetration. Being solid, it also performs well against barriers in self-defense situations.
The point of the Shield EZ is a gun large enough to manipulate without strain, in a caliber still adequate for defense. It is both things, indeed. Magazines are also very easy to load. I did not find them any harder to fill with eight rounds at the end of the day than at the beginning. There’s a small button on the side you can use to depress the follower to make loading even simpler, like you see on many .22 auto magazines. I found it was just as easy to depress the top round with my left thumb and insert the next one as you would normally load a magazine.
The slide ends in “wings” on both sides to aid grasping. They’re melted, hardly noticeable, but really improve the leverage needed to rack the slide. If you have trouble running a slide, the EZ is for you.
A Bit Of A Drill
As a “graduation exercise” I shot a 9-shot group with each at 15 yards. The Fiocchi put six shots into 1-1/2″ and the overall nine into 3-1/2″. The Honey Badger put six shots into 2-1/2″ with three errant shots pulling out the group to 5″. The vertical stringing with the HoneyBadger load is likely due to my constant fight with 3-dot sights. I prefer to level the front blade with the top of the rear blade, but when the dots are aligned, the front post dips a little. Operator error there, but keep this in mind if you’re having the same issue.
In shooting long strings (like nine shots in a row), little lapses in concentration quickly become evident. I’m sure aligning the dots instead of the blade caused the vertical, but wind ended the day, and successive storm fronts precluded me from going out again to prove it. Putting six of nine tightly gives me confidence the gun will deliver — if I can tighten the loose nut behind the trigger.
All controls are easy to reach on the Shield EZ. The action can also be cycled with the safety “on” which is significant.
Green Light This Idea
A laser sight is a natural for the Shield EZ and Crimson Trace has been a go-to source for them for decades. Their new Rail Master green laser is much easier to see during daylight in a red vs. green comparison. It tucks neatly out of the way on the rail below the Shield EZ without the use of the extra plates supplied. I generally prefer the laser dot to show just above the front sight rather than where the bullet strikes, which is usually under the front sight.
In practice, I took too much time looking for the dot when zeroed for the bullet’s impact, since the dot was under the sights and I couldn’t see it. I found hit speed and accuracy was better in dim light practice if I used the laser as a guide to acquire the iron sights, which I’ve long trained to do.
Regardless of the sights used, the Shield EZ is an easy-racking, easy-loading .380. It’s an excellent beginner’s self-defense gun and the “manual of arms” to run it is simple and easy to learn. It’s a tool those lacking physical strength can use with confidence. The EZ may change the concept of using autos for limited mobility users.
Editor’s note: Some very early production Shield EZs (including our test sample) have a minor issue with the safety moving to the “on” position when using ammunition producing a high level of felt recoil. S&W will upgrade the safety of any EZ produced prior to April 4th, within a certain serial number range. Call (800) 331-0852 or email MP380EZAdvisory@smith-wesson.com to see if your pistol qualifies. You will be instructed on how to proceed if it does.