Editor's note: View our S&W Shield photo gallery for extended coverage of this pistol.
Ever since their introduction in late 2005, Smith & Wesson's M&P pistols have garnered a growing share of the police market. M&Ps can now be seen in the holsters of a wide variety of American and international agencies,
To address this growing market S&W has offered the M&P in service, compact, long slide, and competition models. The last few years has seen the growth of unprecedented demand for subcompact pistols suitable for "deep cover" carry by undercover and off-duty police officers and licensed civilians. A number of handgun makers now offer semi-auto mini-pistols, and earlier this year S&W joined in this commercial fray with a new subcompact pistol, the M&P Shield.
Is the Shield really a "sub-compact?" Well when you consider it is 6.1 inches long, 4.6 inches high, a mere 0.95 inches wide, and weighs only 19 ounces (unloaded), it’s pretty obvious that it fills the bill quite nicely.
The Shield is available in either 9mm or .40 S&W. While the latter is currently the most popular American police handgun cartridge, when fired from small pistols, recoil can be excessive much to the detriment of accuracy. For that reason I believe that the 9mm cartridge is the preferred round for pistols of this class. And thanks to advances in bullet technology and modern propellants, the 9mm's performance has become a much more attractive self-defense round.
Like its full-sized brethren the Shield features a Zytel polymer frame with steel rails embedded on either side of the frame that run from the front locking block to the rear sear housing block. These not only provide additional strength to the frame but reduce torque and frame flex and, combined with the polymer frame itself, minimize recoil pulse.
With a moderately extended grip tang and an optimum grip angle of 18 degrees, the Shield is a naturally pointing pistol. This design also helps with recoil control. Lastly, the trigger guard is enlarged to allow use by shooters wearing gloves.
The Shield's slide and barrel are stainless steel, and the slide rails are thicker than those on many other polymer pistols. A large extractor ensures that fired cases get out of the way reliably. The Shield comes with Lo-Mount sights that use the three-dot system to aid in rapid sight alignment and enhanced target acquisition. For those agencies desiring them, night sights are available as an option.
Sharply cut serrations allow smooth slide retraction even with wet hands or when wearing gloves. Another nice feature is that all edges of the slide, including the sights, have been beveled to prevent abrasion to the shooter's hands when drawing, loading, unloading, or clearing a malfunction. The rear of the barrel chamber has a half-moon cut, allowing the shooter to verify whether or not there is a cartridge in the chamber.
Breech locking is accomplished by the barrel hood moving up into and bearing on the front edge of the ejection port. Upon firing these two parts recoil together for a short distance before an angled lug on the bottom of the barrel cams it down, releasing the slide, which continues to the rear, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case. As the recoil spring pulls the slide forward, it strips the next round out of the magazine and chambers it. As the slide and barrel go into battery, the barrel hood once again moves up into the ejection port, locking the two units together.[PAGEBREAK]S&W has redesigned the M&P's double-action trigger mechanism so it has a shorter reset. The Shield is the first M&P to feature it but plans are for this mechanism to be used on all future M&P pistols.
The Shield comes with a manual safety on the left frame. Like the slide release and takedown levers it has a flat profile and is mounted almost flush to the frame so as to not hang up on clothing when the pistol is drawn from concealment.
In addition to the manual safety, the Shield also features trigger, firing pin, and magazine disconnect safeties.
The Shield comes with both seven- and eight-round magazines. The seven-round mags fit flush with the bottom of the grip frame while the eight-rounder is a bit over half of an inch longer and is fitted with a sleeve that approximates the outside diameter of the grip frame. I found the difference insignificant in terms of concealability. So since the longer magazine allows a full, three-finger grip and enhanced recoil control, I would use it in preference to the shorter magazine whenever possible.
Unlike the other M&P models, the Shield does not have interchangeable backstraps or ambidextrous slide releases, nor can the magazine release be switched to the port side. Considering the likely uses for this pistol, I don’t see any of these as downsides.
I will freely admit to being a long-time M&P fan, and I use these pistols for concealed carry, home defense, and competition. I found the Shield a fitting addition to the line and was anxious to try it out at the range.
Assisted by my friend Butch Simpson, I fired the Shield for accuracy at 15 yards with four different ammunition brands; the results can be seen on the accompanying chart on page 22. We were both pleased at how, regardless of bullet weight and velocity, all four types of ammo shot to point of aim. As for accuracy, the Shield shoots a sub-1.5-inch group at 15 yards.
We then set up a pair of combat targets and proceeded to run the Shield through a series of offhand drills at five and seven yards. All drills began from the draw, using a Galco Yaqui Belt Slide holster.
The trigger displayed a bit of "new gun" stiffness, but thanks to its consistent stroke, I found it quite easy to put all of the rounds sent downrange into the higher scoring zones of the targets. And while I don't really see a need for it on this pistol, the Shield's safety lever was sharply serrated and, despite its flush profile, was positive in manipulation.
I was not surprised with how well the M&P Shield performed. After all, S&W's engineers have had seven years to improve upon what was already an excellent design and they did exactly that. If you—or your agency—are considering a subcompact pistol for undercover officers or off-duty carry you would do yourself a disservice if you didn’t check out the M&P Shield before making a purchase decision.
Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Specs:
Capacity: 7 or 8 rounds
Overall Length: 6.1 inches
Barrel Length: 3.1 inches
Height: 4.6 inches
Width: 0.95 inches
Construction: Slide, stainless steel; Frame, Zytel polymer
Sights: Front, white dot; Rear, dual white dots
Trigger Pull: 6.5 pounds
Extras and Options: Loaded chamber indicator, thumb safety, box, lock, and owner's manual