Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
The S&W M&P Shield, a striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol that created a brand new category by splitting the difference in size between the little .380 handguns and the larger semiautomatics.

One of the most common platitudes you will hear about carry guns is that “They should be comforting, not comfortable.”

That was the old-school gun owner’s response when somebody complained that a full-size carry gun is heavy and bulky. That attitude not only turned off a lot of new shooters, it did nothing to solve a real problem.

About the time “shall-issue” concealed carry laws started sweeping the country in the 1990s, the small polymer-framed .380 ACP guns came along. It started with the Kel-Tec P3AT. It wasn’t long before Ruger announced its LCP, which was a clone of the Kel-Tec design and became the most popular handgun in the world for a while. That launched a series of little .380 handguns offered by gun companies today.

These tiny guns are lightweight, inexpensive, and comfortable to carry. But perhaps even more important, they are less intimidating for new shooters. With a huge wave of citizens buying their first carry guns, these little polymer-framed .380 pistols were moving off dealer shelves in record numbers.

The trouble is that while these pistols are light, easy to carry, and easy to conceal, the .380 ACP cartridge is considered by most self-defense experts to be underpowered and inadequate. Most loads produce at best a puny 200 foot-pounds of energy with a lightweight 90-grain bullet. The little guns tended to have hard trigger pulls and crude sights or, in some cases, no sights at all, making any sort of precision shooting difficult.

Following these were the small-frame guns that were simply scaled-down versions of the full-size pistols, like the mini-Glocks. Grips and barrels were shorter, but most of these handguns were still too bulky, too wide, and too heavy. That made them unappealing as carry guns to many shooters.

Then came the S&W M&P Shield, a striker-fired, polymer-framed handgun that created a brand new category. The Shield split the difference in size between the little .380 handguns and the larger handguns. The key is that it’s a true, scaled-down handgun in every dimension. Its slim width makes it a very comfortable gun to carry. It also makes the gun feel good in the hand.

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
In 2012, Smith & Wesson introduced the M&P Shield in 9mm and .40 S&W. The Shield is a subcompact single-stacked magazine variant of the M&P line. mfg photo

The Shield has high-quality, three-dot sights that are easy to see. The striker-fired trigger pull is about 6.5 pounds, so the gun is easy to shoot. But the best aspect of the Shield, other than its size and weight, is that it’s available in two true self-defense cartridge chamberings: 9mm and .40 S&W.

The 9mm Parabellum is the best seller in the Shield. It is considerably more powerful than the .380, averaging about 300 foot-pounds, while some +P loads can nearly double the power of the .380 ACP.

However, another common platitude is that “you should never bring a handgun to a gunfight unless it starts with a four.” This recognizes that all handguns are low-powered compared to rifles, and that bigger bullets do more damage. The .40 S&W uses a larger diameter and heavier bullet than the 9mm, and will produce nearly 480 foot-pounds of energy with some loads. Some will say it’s harder to shoot than the 9mm, but in a side-by-side comparison I did with several shooters and two Shields, it was extremely difficult to tell the difference in recoil between .40 S&W and 9mm +P.

The M&P Shield features a black polymer frame and a coated stainless steel slide and barrel that are rust resistant. This is important in a carry gun, because sweat is unavoidable. The barrel is 3.1 inches and its overall length is just 6.1 inches. When empty the gun weighs 19 ounces. The sight radius is 5.3 inches and its trigger pull is 6.5 pounds. Unlike some other striker-fired handguns, the Shield can be disassembled without pulling the trigger.

The Shield can be ordered with or without a safety. As with most striker-fired handguns, no secondary safety is required, but the option is available for those who wish to have the redundancy of a safety.

The M&P Shield is a very easy gun to shoot, and on the range it acts more like a full-size handgun. It has an 18-degree grip angle, which gives most shooters a natural point of aim.

I find that I can run drills and make hits easily. Of course, with any carry gun it’s important that you are able to shoot it well, and this is a gun that is easy and fun to shoot.

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
The M&P Shield has roughly the same silhouette as the M&P Compact, but is considerably thinner—it’s less than an inch wide. The Shield is the first M&P to incorporate an improved trigger with positive reset. mfg photo

I am a huge advocate of laser sights on any carry gun, and the Shield can be ordered with the Crimson Trace Green Laserguard installed. The green laser is very bright, and unlike most red lasers, it can be seen in most daylight conditions. (Crossbreed makes some good holsters that will fit the Shield with the green laser.)

One of my Shields in .40 S&W is fitted with the CT green laser and with Trijicon HD Night Sights (another add-on that I highly recommend.) It has become my go-to carry gun and I trust my life and the life of my loved ones to it. That makes a strong statement about the Shield.

Suggested retail prices for the M&P Shield start at $449.