By Roy Huntington, American Handgunner, Photos By Rob Jones/The Imagesmith, LLC
The call went something like this: “Hey Roy, can you break free for a quick two-dayer to S&W for a new gun launch?” — it was Matt Spafford, their media liaison guru. “We’re announcing something very cool and want to make sure Handgunner’s there to cover it!”
“Um … uh …,” I said, doing my best editor impression. “Promise me it’s not a polymer frame 9mm and I’ll come.”
“Ha! I’ve got you on that, so now you have to come. Looking forward to seeing you soon, bye.”
For some reason I kept thinking I’d just been had by a professional. I also leaned on Mike Humphries, the executive editor here, figuring if I had to suffer through it, so would he. And just so we’re clear — I don’t mind polymer autos, and I even own some. I’m just always wishing and hoping gun companies would do something new with the concept. We’d see, wouldn’t we?
The Big Day
I normally don’t talk about the whole “visit the factory” thing as it’s just the vehicle to get info to us. But this time was different. Oh, the arrangements were standard, the “Harrumph-Harrumph” handshakes normal, even the meeting room had a PowerPoint waiting breathlessly to get our attention. But it’s what happened over the next couple of hours that stands out.
Oh, and here’s the part where I say what an idiot I am, by the way.
After the smiles and a few new products were shown, there was a sort of hush, then Jan Mladek, general manager of Smith & Wesson and M&P brands, held the PowerPoint remote button up, pointed it at the computer — there was a collective bit of breath-holding — and he mashed the button.
A black polymer-framed semi-auto appeared magically on the screen.
The breaths were held for a micro-second longer, then a long, sad-sounding sigh escaped about 15 writers and editors.
But we were all wrong. And some, like me, were more-wronger than others.
Jan expected this I think. He smiled broadly and announced, “The new M&P .380 SHIELD EZ.”
A .380? But it was big. This wasn’t like the Bodyguard at all, or the two dozen pocket .380s currently offered “out there.” It was like a regular Shield, sorta’ (but it had a funny bump on the back of the grip) and might have even been a bit longer. But it was in .380 — begging the question hanging in the air in the room:
There were mutterings, muffled coughs as throats were cleared — and no small amount of shoulder shrugging going on. Including me.
“Mike,” I said, speaking behind my hand, “am I being stupid or is this a silly idea for a new gun?”
“I sure don’t get it,” whispered Mike. But he may have just been being kind to me since I’m technically his boss. Or he honestly didn’t get it. Which turned out to be the case. Just like me.
We moved to the range area at the S&W Academy and, while we shot our way through a good-natured mini-competition with a cross-section of new guns, we got to know the EZ. The more I shot it, the more I liked it — and the more I understood what was going on. After about 200 rounds I understood exactly why this was, dare I say it — a brilliant idea. On the range, Mike eased up next to me, lifting his muffs, saying, “I get it now. Do you?”
Ta-da. We all were getting it.
Re-insert the line about me being an idiot here. But that was before — now I was an advocate.
Ask any gun store sales guy what does he do when a “Uh, we’d like to look at a home defense gun but we don’t know anything about guns” customer comes in. He points them at everything from .22 Autos and 4″ .38 revolvers to standard sized 9mm polymer guns. Some even show them small-framed revolvers and tiny .380s — shame on them, by the way. Factor in older people — even experienced older shooters — the infirm, many women, younger shooters, etc. and you realize exactly none of those guns are “just right” for them.
If you’d ask me before what I’d recommend I’d have gone down that same list. The thought, the very “idea” of what S&W introduced, had never entered into my sieve-like brain. Why not a bigger .380 with an easy to run slide, modest recoil and adequate stopping power? There were a rare few in years passed, but ammo at the time wasn’t up to snuff, so we basically ignored them. And they lacked some modern features. Add a light rail, external safety and even a grip safety and you have a defensive auto any beginner could manage.
I realized I was holding an answer to all those challenges.
I’ve been living with this particular SHIELD .380 EZ for about four months at the time of writing. I’ve put around 550 to 600 rounds of all sorts of ammo through it. I almost hesitate to say this fearing you won’t believe me, but it’s honestly never bobbled, even once. And in retrospect, I don’t recall any of the sample guns at S&W glitching either.
That’s essentially unheard of in the world of the .380 and I’m thinking it has to do with the longer slide and “bigger” format. Feeding any auto is all about timing, and being able to run a long slide likely means a slightly slower slide velocity translating to an easier trip into the chamber. Ditto for extraction and ejection. It’s why most 5″ 1911s run more reliably than the shorty ones.
The mechanics are simple and contribute to the success of the concept. It’s got an 18-degree grip angle, like a 1911, and the trigger on my gun measures around the 5-lb. range and isn’t bad for a polymer gun. It even has an over-travel stop built into the trigger guard. It also has a top-pivot trigger and no center “safety” flipper thingy. It’s a nice, wide, solid trigger. At 6.6″ long, the EZ’s a bit longer than a standard Shield but would conceal as easily.
The grip safety pivots on the bottom (like an old 1903 Colt pocket auto) and regardless of how I gripped the gun — including riding the external safety with my thumb — the web of my hand always depressed the grip safety just fine. There’s a bit of a beavertail built into the frame and it really promotes a high grip, which is good. There’s also small ledges built right into the very rear of the slide to help you get a grip when you run the slide. A marvelously clever touch, especially for older, weaker or arthritic fingers.
The magazine has little nubs on either side of the follower allowing you to pull the follower down as you load. Again, it makes the chore much easier. Honestly, why don’t all autos have those?
The gun is actually hammer-fired and not a striker gun, so it’s technically single action. You can get it without the external thumb safeties but you do need the grip safety so don’t think about pinning it down. The grip safety on the EZ won’t allow the gun to fire unless it’s depressed and the trigger is pulled fully to the rear. The designers know best on this one.
The sights are white, 3-dot and the rear is adjustable for windage using a supplied tool. Interestingly, you get to it under the sight, in the roof of the slide. A small hex screw is loosened, sight adjusted, then tightened again. The EZ comes with two, 8-round magazines and both actually hold eight rounds. They’re well-constructed, have bright orange followers and are clearly marked for round count. All of this goes toward the “keep it simple” concept.
But Wait, There’s More
That slide really is easy to run and it surprises me every time. There’s also a loaded chamber indicator you can feel as well as see. The grip texture is like a Shield’s but seems more modest in texture. I really like it, and it felt like very fine, slightly worn sandpaper.
The magazine release is reversible, but not ambi, so you can put it on the side you favor. Disassembly is easy too, and you don’t need to pull the trigger to get it started. Lock the slide back, rotate the take-down lever and the slide/barrel comes right off forward. Easy. Or is that EZ?
There’s the normal light rail, and I found mine fits all sorts of lights I had on-hand, so it won’t be an issue finding one fitting your budget easily. I actually recommended S&W offer a sort of “Home Defense Kit” to include a simple light. We’ll see.
The stainless slide and 3.67″ barrel are coated with something S&W calls Armornite — a “keep it from getting rusty” coating. Between that and the polymer frame, there’s no need to worry about the daily grind of concealed carry here. Toward this end, my sample gun weighs 18.2 oz. on my postal scale, with an empty magazine inserted. It’s light but not so feathery you can’t feel it in your hand. It’d be very easy to carry every day, and is a great nightstand gun for home defense for we “average” mortals with some time under our belts.
Just before I wrote this I sat down to do some serious targeting. In previous months I’d kept the EZ on my desk and now and again I’d take it outside and bang away at a couple of plates I keep handy just to get rounds through it. I had fired it off-hand at targets and found it always seemed to hit a bit high and to the left, although it always ran fine regardless of the load. Careful targeting at 25 yards showed it does indeed shoot a bit high and to the left, but close enough “for government work” as my dad used to say. It’ll be easy to tweak the rear for windage once I settle on a load I like best.
The thing surprising me was how accurate the EZ actually is. It particularly liked Black Hills 60-gr. HoneyBadger (a solid copper, fluted load) and the SIG 90-gr. V-Crown load. The HoneyBadger averaged about 1,210 fps over my chrono while the SIG delivered around the 935 fps mark. The HoneyBadger’s best group (eight rounds) was about 2.25″ but if you take out the worse two, that group becomes 1.25″ which is likely what it’d do in a mechanical rest. The SIG load delivered about 3″ but included one I pulled. Take that out and we suddenly get a more realistic 1.5″.
This is stunning accuracy for a .380, and frankly top-tier accuracy for any production semi-auto in any form. And I did notice it was sheer pleasure to shoot the EZ and not be beat-up by recoil. It allows the shooter to really concentrate on trigger press. I think I’ve found my new “teaching” gun.
An interesting side note is the fact virtually all of the brass from my last shoot landed about six feet to my right, just forward of the gun, in a pattern about four feet wide. It looked like I had swept the brass into a loose pile. Amazingly consistent ejection, from both loads.
Easy, actually. Holsters fitting the SHIELD series mostly fit the EZ if they’re open-bottomed, but there are also dedicated rigs for the EZ too. It’s light, highly functional, has adequate stopping power with modern ammo (no +P though, please), can handle a rail light and fits a wide section of hand sizes, including my own smallish hand. Since the parent M&P design has been around since 2006, the basics are proven in the field. No doubt companies like Apex Tactical will be introducing fancy triggers and such for the EZ in no time.
What would I change? Not a darn thing. I honestly couldn’t think of a single “bad” thing. At an MSRP of $399, this is a “buy it and put it to work right now” gun. Since it’s so accurate, I truthfully wish I had an adjustable sight on mine so I could dial it right in if I wanted to. Squirrel hunting with a .380 might be fun.
If I described you here, then you’re also looking at what just might be an answer to your dilemma. And — this is the best answer I’ve seen.
Thanks to American Handgunner for this post.