The S&W Shield handgun has been offered in 9mm (top above) and .40 S&W (middle). Now it's available in .45 ACP.

The S&W M&P Shield, introduced three years ago, kicked off an entirely new category of defensive handguns. This striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol is smaller than a sub-compact but larger than a micro model. Combining the best of both types, it carries almost like a micro pistol but shoots like a larger gun.

Want proof of the Shield’s success? It was introduced in 2012 and already a million of them have been sold.

Unlike with many of the Munchkin size pistols, you can actually hit something with the Shield. The small-caliber micro pistols also don’t carry a lot of whack if you luck out and hit the bad guy, but the Shield is available in four full-power defensive cartridge chamberings. For lack of a better name, I call Shields and others like them SSCs, or super-sub-compact pistols.

This new category of handguns grew fast, with plenty of competitors hitting the market. One big difference between S&W and other makers is that the competitors have mostly chased the sales numbers and limited their pistols to the 9mm. Although it’s trendy now to carry a gun in that cartridge, there are many who understand terminal ballistics and are not fans of the cartridge, myself included. The Shield has always been available in .40 S&W. I have Shields in both 9mm and .40 S&W, but I carry the .40 S&W. Why? Because it was the most powerful cartridge I could get in that handgun—“was” being the key word in that sentence.

M&P45 Shield: Gun Review
New from Crimson Trace for the S&W M&P45 Shield is the Laserguard Pro, with laser sight and bright LED light. author photo

S&W recently released the M&P Shield in .45 ACP.

Those of us who believe defensive cartridges still start with a four are happy about that decision. I am a huge proponent of personal freedom and I am not going to tell you what to carry. But my personal choice is to carry a handgun that punches a bigger hole than a 9mm, so I celebrate this new .45 ACP as a great leap forward for SSC carry guns.

Differences, Big and Small

S&W did not simply chamber the existing Shield in .45 ACP. The new M&P45 Shield is slightly larger than its siblings—not enough to make a difference in how it carries, or even looks, but just enough that my old Kydex holsters won’t fit it.

The easy-to-shoot, polymer-framed pistol fills an important niche in the self-defense handgun category.

S&W M&P Shield: Gun Review

The “old” Shield has a 3.1-inch barrel, while the M&P45 has a 3.3-inch barrel. The sight radius is 5.6 inches on the .45, which is .3 inches longer than the original Shield. The overall length of the .40 S&W is 6.1 inches, while the M&P45 Shield is 6.5 inches long. The .40 S&W weighs 19 ounces while the M&P45 Shield weighs in at 20.5 ounces. My .40 S&W Shield’s slide measures .902 at the widest point, while the slide on the M&P45 Shield is .953 inches. The magazines on the.40 and the 9mm both measure 1.265 inches wide, while the 45 is 1.375 inches wide. The magazine for the .45 is also a few thousandths of an inch wider than the 9mm and the .40 S&W. The good news is that there is room enough in the existing grip to accommodate this larger magazine, so the outside dimensions of the grip remain the same with all the Shield handguns.

Bottom line: while the M&P45 Shield is very slightly larger than the original Shield, you would likely have to have them both in your hands, side by side, to tell that. Other than the holster issue, the size difference is not relevant.

M&P45 Shield: Gun Review
As a new handgun it can be hard to find a carry holster to fit the M&P45 Shield. I am a lefty and insist on a Crimson Trace laser on my Shield carry guns, so finding a decent holster is frustrating. This Shield holster is from Squared Away Customs, which has a holster in the works for the M&P45 Shield. I recommend them highly. author photo

The M&P45 Shield is offered with or without a thumb safety and with or without a magazine disconnect. It comes with three-white-dot sights. You can adjust the rear sight for windage by drifting it in the dovetail, which has a locking set screw to make sure it stays put.

The M&P45 Shield features a black polymer frame with an embedded stainless steel rigid chassis and a coated stainless steel slide and barrel. That makes it rust-resistant, which is important in a carry gun where contact with sweat is unavoidable. Unlike some other striker-fired handguns, the Shield can be disassembled without pulling the trigger, which is an important safety issue.

Some of the features on the M&P45 Shield include a new and more aggressive grip surface. (There’s no need to stipple the grip yourself, which I explain how to do here.

How to reshape and stipple the grip on a polymer handgun to your liking, with tools you probably have right now.

Glock Grip: the DIY Custom Job

The slide has cocking serrations on both the front and rear. The trigger pull on my sample gun is 5 pounds, 12 ounces, which is less than what is listed in the specs—and a pleasant surprise. The 18-degree grip angle makes for a natural point of aim for most shooters. As on all the M&P handguns, there is a port in the top that allows you to verify that a round is chambered.

The guns ships with two magazines, one of which has extended capacity and an insert to extend the grip. These magazines hold 7 and 6 rounds, the same as the Shield in .40 S&W magazines and just one less than the 9mm holds.

Note that the 1911, the original .45 pistol, was designed with a 7-round magazine (although 8-round mags are common now.) So you now have the power and capacity of that world-famous and well-vetted fighting pistol in a package that is half the weight.

At the Range

The M&P Shield in .45 is a very easy gun to shoot, and on the range it acts like a full-size handgun. I find that I can run drills and make hits easily. Of course, with any carry gun it’s important that you be able to shoot it well, and this is a gun that is fun and easy to shoot, which encourages practice. In testing this gun, which included shooting drills, bench testing for accuracy, and running the MGM plate rack on my backyard range just for fun, I have fired several hundred rounds of a wide range of ammo types. I have not experienced one single stoppage, jam, or malfunction with this handgun.

M&P45 Shield: Gun Review
The S&W Shield handgun has been offered in 9mm (top above) and .40 S&W (middle). Now it’s available in .45 ACP. author photo

There’s a lot of fuss made about the expected recoil from the .45 ACP cartridge in this little handgun, but never by anybody with any actual experience shooting it. Recoil is a specific function of physics and is determined by the weight of the ejecta (the bullet and powder) leaving the gun, and the bullet’s velocity at the time of its exit. While a .45 generates more recoil than a 9mm, there are other factors in play. One is firearm design, which is a determining factor in “felt recoil,” or the gun feels to the shooter. The Shield gets your hand up high and close to the line of the bore. That helps keep muzzle flip under control, and directs the recoil back, rather than twisting the barrel up as so often happens with big-bore revolvers and other handguns. The Shield is a very manageable handgun.

I just shot the .45 and .40 Shield handguns in one range session. I used one hand and two hands, weak hand and strong hand; pretty much every scenario I could come up with and I can see little or no difference in felt recoil. In fact, it is surprisingly easy to manage the .45 ACP in so small a handgun. In timed drills I am able to maintain split times (the time between shots) that are statistically within my average with any full power defensive pistol. In other words, I can shoot it as fast as almost any other gun I carry and still hit the target. I think that this little .45 makes a very good choice for carry.

There’s an old joke about a Texas Ranger who was asked why he carried a .45. He replied, “Because they don’t make a .46.” I carried my .40 S&W Shield for years because they it didn’t come in .45 ACP. Now it does, and I’ll be carrying one as soon as I install a laser and night sights. It has a larger hole in the barrel, and in my never humble opinion, more power is never a mistake in a self-defense handgun.

Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield
Caliber: .45 ACP
Capacity: 6+1, 7+1
Safety: Thumb Safety
Barrel Length: 3.3 inches
Overall Length: 6.5 inches
Front Sight: White Dot
Rear Sight: White 2-Dot
Action: Striker
Grip: Polymer
Weight: 20.5 ounces
Barrel Material: Stainless steel
Slide Material: Stainless steel
Frame Material: Polymer
Average of five, 5-shot groups with three different types of ammo (total of 15 groups at 15 yards: 3.07 inches
MSRP: $479