It’s been a long road
In the world of defensive handguns it is very easy to get lost, turned about, distracted, and ultimately even a little frustrated when it comes to picking out a gun for ourselves. When picking a gun for someone else it is tantamount to grandma picking a sweater out for her angsty teenage grandchild, probably not going to work. Let’s face it folks, there two entire boatloads worth of options and and features to pick from, when it comes to handguns.
The newer we are to the market, the sport, or the defensive handgun crowd, the more intimidating and difficult this choice is. We don’t want to pick wrong! Heavens no! If you have “gun” friends they’ll laugh at you… but much more importantly you’ll have a tool you can’t use well, like picking a manual transmission vehicle when you’ve only driven automatic your entire life… or have never driven period.
Even the more experienced shooters among spend a long time navigating the options for defensive handguns. I have gone through seven handguns, carried them all, and have shot dozens of others. In addition trying holster/carry options and different ammo types and… and… ugh!
It just so happens I really, really enjoy shooting new guns so this was not as frustrating for me as it could have been for others. Readers sit back and enjoy my mostly self-induced and semi-deliberate trial and error process, testing, and finally a firm decision for a solid defensive carry pistol.
The Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield
First a little background. The M&P line of firearms. Comprised of semi-auto pistols, revolvers, and rifles, M&P is Smith & Wesson’s revival of their Military & Police line. A truly brilliant marketing choice for what has turned out to be a solid line of products that perform. I could talk quite a bit more on the M&Ps as a whole but suffice to say in the modern firearm game, especially polymer framed handguns, they stand out and did so quickly. M&P’s have given GLOCK quite the competition. Competition is Good, in my opinion, for both companies. GLOCK still rules the roost overall but M&P’s are exceptional in their own right, gaining ground, and have many endearing qualities that I found lacking from the GLOCK product line.
Now to the Shield, the fourth S&W handgun I have acquired (3rd M&P).
The Shield is Smith & Wesson’s answer to the dedicated concealed gun request from consumers. Available in both 9mm and .40 S&W, the Shield has enough firepower in both popular calibers. Having talked with local gun stores I can tell you, overwhelmingly, the 9mm is the choice. This is due to a complex combination of factors that boil down to the caliber being more pleasant to shoot and getting one more round over the .40 caliber. Perhaps I will do an article about the popular handgun calibers in detail… later… I already enjoy tangents too much.
Here are the Specs straight from Smith & Wesson:
Magazine capacity: 8 & 7 rounds 9mm, 7 & 6 for .40 S&W
Materials: Stainless steel slide and barrel, polymer frame
Weight empty: 19 ounces
Barrel Length: 3.1″
Overall length: 6.1″
Sights: Stainless steel three dot
Action: Striker Fired
Finish: Black Melonite®
Price: $449 MSRP
There you have it. The Shield is light, small, chambered in serious calibers, and has the consistent trigger pull of the striker fired action guns. A feature I love about those designs.
But why choose this over a GLOCK 26 or a M&P9c? Those two pistols and many other sub-compact striker guns have similar features, so why?
The Shield designed from the ground up to be THE concealment gun of the M&P line, not just one you can conceal. Everything about this gun is geared toward that sole purpose. The grip is shortened, the frame is built around a single stack magazine to slim the width, and the barrel is in that minimalist 3” range.
The Shield is not the smallest gun out there. I wouldn’t even call it a pocket pistol necessarily, still a little big for that. What the Shield achieved was becoming a “Duty” concealed carry pistol. It’s just small enough. (Editors note If your looking for a pocket pistol check out our review on the Sig P938)
My whole hand still fits on the gun (barely I know). My long lanky 6’ frame with long thin arms and hands to match still has a full grip on this gun. It reminds me of my M&P9L when I draw it from the holster. Now I’ve lost a lot of real estate (surface area), but the key was NOT TOO MUCH. Just enough to maximize the size efficiency of the handgun while retaining its “duty gun” persona.
This is a primary carry pistol. Not a back-up gun, as smaller guns were often marketed, this is the gun I’m going for first in a life threatening violent encounter. That’s what I mean when I say “Duty Gun” I carry this with the same mentality as if I had an open sidearm on a duty belt, this is just tucked away concealed.
The long road to finding the right gun
I”ll be right up front, this just my evolving experience, not very technical but perhaps we can relate.
When I started concealed carrying, shortly before becoming a shooting instructor, I didn’t gravitate toward a small gun. Quite the opposite, I knew that larger guns had several distinct advantages when it came to shooting. I purchased first a FNP40 by FNH-USA (4” barrel, 14 shot capacity, .40S&W). It was an excellent gun, light enough, plenty of rounds, good sights, and good trigger. But before long I found little quirks with it that didn’t quite line up with what I wanted for concealed carry so it went into the case at home and I tried something new.
Next was an M&P45 (4.5” barrel, 10 shot capacity, .45 ACP). This gun was both a bit larger and a bit heavier than the FNP but not any more difficult to conceal really. I also fell in love with the striker action. But again as time went on I began looking for something that fit the role better.
I transitioned to 9mm. The M&P9L (5” barrel, 17 shot capacity, 9mm) is very nearly the same size as the M&P45, The grip was slightly leaner due to the shorter rounds and the frame over all just a smidge more narrow. But in the hand it felt the same as my beloved .45 and I liked that. I also liked having 7 more rounds in my gun and the faster and more accurate shooting I was capable of. But time wore on again and again I looked for something to fit the role better.
Enter the GLOCK 19 (4” Barrel, 15 shot capacity, 9mm). This was my first toe in the water toward a smaller gun to carry concealed and comparing the 19 to the guns I had carried so far, it was much smaller. But it didn’t feel TOO small. It retained all the “Duty Gun” qualities I liked that made it very shootable. The GLOCK 19 is quite possibly the most popular carry gun overall, and I could tell why when I carried it. The issue I ran into and what led me to change again was what I’m always most concerned about, I shot another gun better, significantly better infact so I went back to the M&P9L. I was resigned to carry a large gun on my twig like frame but very confident in my ability to perform with the gun should the need arise, that was my concern above all.
I still carry the M&P 9L on occasion, I also picked up a GLOCK 21 that I can and do carry on occasion, so big guns on skinny me has not ceased entirely, but I digress, let’s get to the Shield.
So enters the M&P Shield
While I was going through the larger gun journey Smith & Wesson had introduced the M&P Shield to their line-up. I’d looked at it and dismissed it. Too small, I thought, it won’t perform. Then one came through one of my classes. And the guy who brought it made me shoot it.
Instead of my expected “meh” reaction of the gun not being for me, it was instead a very contemplative “hmmmm”. I liked it more than anticipated. Not sold yet though, my M&P 9L was still king.
And then it happened again. Another Shield came through class and the owner insisted I try the thing. Never one to pass up free shooting I did. Again… and again… and again.
5 Shields through 5 classes (4 9mms and 1 .40S&W), and with some favorable reviews popping up across the fruited internet plains, I bit. I wanted to run one as a carry piece. But now I couldn’t find it… anywhere. I looked for 2 months until finally after class one day I stumbled across a brand new gun store. I stopped in. Woops they don’t open until next week! But the owners were there prepping and since I was dressed in full professional gun guy attire they let me in to chat. It was a fun conversation and at the end of it I made the inquiry that had stymied me for 8 weeks! “Do you guys have, or are you getting any M&P9 Shields?”
“Yes, they’ll be here for opening.” Victory! A huge thank you to High Caliber Firearms of Alamo, MI. I reserved one of the three coming in, a professional courtesy they in no way had to extend to me, because the other two sold within the first hour of opening. Opening day for them came and here I was… running very late due to class. But they all stayed, just to get me that gun that day, and when I arrived it was wrapped in bow. It was my birthday. The little things can make a lifetime customer.
I also picked up a few different varieties of their home brewed 9mm ammo, they manufacture in house, and I was ready.
M&P 9mm Shield report
Now were at the technical stuff guys. Did this gun perform?
Reliability wise it ate every factory and +P round I fed it. I had one hang up with a High Caliber loaded round, and this one I called well in advance. I bought some low recoil competition type rounds to try. These are loaded at the very bottom of the pressure curve for 9mm and will function better in longer guns with longer recoil springs that are under less tension. Adding a lighter tension recoil spring can further increase performance with these “light recoil” rounds.
This is not the ammo the Shield is meant for, it’s meant for the opposite end of the scale, high pressure defense ammo. Even with all that and the increased tension on the recoil spring of the small gun, it only failed once. It fired the rest with a noticeably weak ejection pattern, completely expected with the ammo, but it fired.
The top group is at 15 feet offhand. The bottom is 30 feet offhand. Both groups were 8 shots (1 magazine). Conclusion: Plenty of accuracy. 25 yards would not be much stretch for the little gun. I’ll even try at 50.
The short sight radius lends to more slop in the accuracy department when holding on target, there is no cure for that while having a small gun. The iron sights are the traditional 3 white dots. I have not upgraded them yet, I will once Trijicon releases HDs for the Shield (crossing my fingers) or I may try the XS Big Dot.
So it’s reliable and accurate. It’s not too small that it becomes uncomfortable to shoot, but what sells it over the other small 9’s is the fact it’s comfortably concealable.
No, that doesn’t do the Shield justice. It’s EFFORTLESSLY concealable. In a good holster this thing disappears. Printing, a big issue in many areas we concealed carriers may frequent, is gone. Dressing to the gun is easy, more natural, and much less effort.
Have you ever done this? Looked at the TV, realized you didn’t want to watch what was on, and then didn’t change the channel because the remote was across the room… or the couch.
I have, most of us have. It’s our comfort level, justifying certain things to stay comfortable, even if it is laziness pure and simple. We’ve all been there at some point.
Why do I bring this up? We can get lazy with our carry gun too. We leave it in the car instead of bring it inside, more convenient, more comfortable. Or we leave it at home for the same reasons. The one thing I found that assured comfortable and well concealed carry with a larger firearm was a good holster, but that often meant a complex holster. The complexity meant that putting it on and taking it off took much greater time and effort, a minute or two instead of a second or two. This had been a deal breaker on several occasions when I left on a quick errand, I left my gun behind. I generally regretted it every second I was gone, chiding my laziness, but I was still without my gun.
The M&P Shield has fixed me not grabbing the remote (gun). It’s that convenient, when riding in the Comp-Tac Victory Gear Infidel holster, just as quick as putting my wallet in pocket.
I can’t begin to emphasize how much I like that. Just how effortless the Shield’s size makes it for carry while still retaining the qualities I want for defense.
Negative comments regarding the Shield
Now… the rub, the cons of this little gun, they exist, but the benefits have far outweighed the detracting factors to this point. Some of these things are just minor nitpicky disappointments and others could be “make or break” for people looking to purchase this gun. So here we go.
Here’s the package. Yes, card board. Cost savings? Probably, but I really enjoyed the M&P cases and miss that particular inclusion from my other guns. But all things considered it rides in a holster, not a case. The lack of a case is not really a negative, more a neutral “meh” thing, but it is a detail I didn’t know I liked as much as I did until it wasn’t there anymore.
The Shield has a manual safety. I personally do not prefer manual safeties, some do, just not me. A manual switch style safety can get in the way of firing the gun. You can forget it’s on quite easily and for a defensive pistol that can be very bad. The upside to this detracting factor is its location and profile. It’s located in the 1911 classic position, back of the frame and on the frame instead of the slide. This has always made the most sense to me if a manual safety must be on the gun. It seems to flow better from an ergonomic standpoint because switching the safety off should be practiced as part of gripping the gun. Practice is the key to using any gun especially one with a manual safety.
The safety itself is well executed, it has a very positive on (up) and off (down) click. I haven’t found any creep or play. It’s on or it’s off, nothing in between, which is good. Happily for me I can just ignore the thing.
The safety is out of the way. I don’t have to mess with it. It stays off and despite my best efforts I can’t “accidently” engage it. I can only deliberately set it to the on position, so I don’t, and have no worries about it moving.
Turning the safety off is an easy thumb sweep. It’s a small target but with a good grip on the gun the safety is a fairly quick find with an audible and tactile click to off. In short, if you like manual safeties, this one is well done. And if you don’t like manual safeties, no problem.
I include the trigger in the cons for one reason, and it’s not the pull weight or grit or anything of that nature. I found a unique quirk while shooting quickly that has to do with the trigger safety, that little tongue on the back. That piece is designed so that if the trigger gets snagged on something accidentally or the gun falls it will catch the bottom part of the frame and prevent the Shield from firing. It works.
It also works if you pull your finger along the top of the frame straight back trying to fire.
This is a characteristic I find on small guns, because of the size our fingers drift higher on the trigger due to hand position. If I’m pulling straight back from the top the gun doesn’t shoot. That is until I slide it down the trigger just a bit to the normal firing position, the trigger safety pivots inside the trigger body, and the trigger breaks normally like it should.
I had this happen just once, and now that I’m aware of it I can immediately fix my finger position, should it happen again. But it made me pause during my evaluation because the gun didn’t go off when I thought it should. OK on the range, not ok if I’m trying to stop someone trying to kill me.
You get better trigger squeeze using the lower part of the trigger anyway, leverage and mechanical advantage and all those fun little things we learn in middle school physics.
The trigger is built for defensive shooting. It has about a quarter inch of take up, a noticeable stop for the second stage, and a clean break that feels around 7lbs. Excellent trigger in a gun designed for a fight.
Smith & Wesson also made the trigger more “clicky”. The number one complaint about M&P triggers is they aren’t GLOCK triggers. The only thing I find different between GLOCK and M&P triggers is the GLOCK’s are “clicky” they make more noise and you can feel the reset more. I never found the smoother and more subtle reset of the older M&P’s to be an issue. In fact I was and am more accurate with it. But this new trigger works, and it works well, nicely done Smith & Wesson.
It’s been a long road guys, this wasn’t just a review of the M&P9 Shield but the process I and many others (maybe you too) have gone through or will go through to find that effortless carry gun. You may not end up on the Shield like I have, but it’s an excellent contender.
As always, find what works for you. A gun YOU can shoot first and foremost. For me, the M&P9 Shield just plain works.