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very week or two, it seems, another gun maker debuts yet another semi-automatic pistol chambered in .380 Auto.—and for good reason—they are popular as hell, especially with concealed carriers. Marketed variously as “compact,” “sub-compact,” “micro-compact,” and "pocket pistols" these .380’s are easy to conceal and weigh relatively little. Many also consider the .380 itself as a good “starter” round/pistol for new shooters. But small semi-autos have their drawbacks, including the fact that the reduced outer surface area can make them harder to manipulate than their larger cousins. There's simply a lot less gun to hold. I’ve tried tiny .380’s with slides that are very difficult to rack, mostly because I could only fit two fingers on the slide. The tiny magazines can be a pain to try to load, too—literally—especially when your fingers slip and jam into the magazine lips.

Smith & Wesson recognized these problems when it designed the new M&P380 Shield EZ™ Pistol. The “EZ” stands for ease of both manipulating the slide and loading the magazines. After a couple hundred rounds at the range, I can say this is the easiest to use .380 Auto I’ve ever had in hand. It’s also very accurate at close range and extremely concealable.

The one and only problem with M&P380 EZ Shield (as far as I can tell) is one S&W recently addressed: with certain types of ammunition, the pistol might inadvertently snap the thumb safety into the “ON” position during recoil. More on that later.

At The Range

I received a new-in-the-box M&P380 from Smith and Wesson, and gave it an inspection, a quick wipe down and then lubricated the slide. Range time.

For .380 ammunition, I initially choose three brands: Aguila ammo loaded with 95-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets; Federal Premium’s HST self-defense with 99-grain jacketed hollow point bullets; and Remington’s UMC with 95-grain FMJs.

The .380 round is no powerhouse. It’s a “close-in” round, and I evaluated it as such. I shot off several magazines of each ammunition brand at targets placed five and seven yards away, standing and firing with a two-handed grip. Accuracy was impressive.

My best group was done with the Federal HST, which punched six rounds into a .741-inch cluster at five yards. At seven yards, the same ammunition delivered a five-shot group at .965-inches.

smith wesson M&P 380 shield target
At five yards and using Federal HST ammunition, the six-shot group below the trigger guard measured just a .741-inches.photo by Brian McCombie

At five and seven yards, both the Aguila and Remington loads both produced groups right at and just under one-inch.

After firing approximately 150 rounds, I didn’t have a single jam up or failure to extract.

Features

Operationally, the M&P380 Shield EZ is perfect for anyone with weaker hands due to arthritis or injury. Most people will be able to snap back the slide with just their thumb and forefinger. Loading magazines is just as easy. Each magazine has load assist buttons on either side of the mag housing. With the magazine sitting on its base plate, you push down on the assist button and the mag follower drops down, allowing you to easily slide in the next round.

smith wesson M&P 380 shield target
The M&P380 Shield EZ without the optional thumb safety. Note the grip safety, a feature not present on other M&P pistols.Smith & Wesson

The texturing on the grips provides solid, slip-free contact between hand and handgun.

Of some contention among gun people, the pistol features a grip safety. It is easy to engage and does so naturally with a normal grip position on the gun.

Mine also had an ambidextrous thumb safety, though the pistol can be had without this feature. The magazine release pops the mag out very positively and can be easily switched to the right side if desired.

As recorded by my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull gauge, the M&P380 EZ’s single-action-only trigger came in at a crisp 4.9 pounds. For comparison, the trigger pull on my M&P45 Shield is a full pound heavier. The EZ is not a striker-fired gun, but rather has an internal hammer, which is why it's a SAO handgun and likely why the trigger feels so good.

Other features include white-dot front and adjustable white-dot rear sights, and a loaded chamber indicator so you can quickly see and feel if a round is chambered.

But did Smith & Wesson unintentionally make the M&P380 Shield too easy to operate?

Shortly after I had completed my range time, Smith & Wesson announced a consumer advisory on the M&P380, noting: “In the case of the M&P 380 Shield EZ Manual Thumb Safety, we have found that in very rare circumstances, ammunition that produces a high level of felt recoil can cause the manual safety to move from the fire to the ‘safety on’ position during firing. Should this occur, you will not be able to fire the next round unless and until the manual safety is reset to the fire position.”

smith wesson M&P 380 shield thumb safety
The M&P380 Shield EZ with the optional thumb safety. S&W will modify pistols with a manual safety made before April 4 due to rare reports of the switch engaging during recoil when used with high-velocity ammunition.Smith & Wesson

This didn’t occurred during my testing. However, I was using .380 rounds generating muzzle velocities right around 900 feet per second (fps) and the recoil was minimal. So, I headed back to my range with some zippier .380 loads.

I ran through two, eight-round magazines each of the higher velocity ammunition brands, firing fast. The brands: Hornady Critical Defense rated with a muzzle velocity of 1,000 fps; Inceptor ARX at 1,150 fps; Inceptor RNP at 1,230 fps; and, Sig Sauer V-Crown at 980 fps.

It's not a definitive, hard-science test by any means, but in all those rounds, there was not a single time the safety moved to the “ON” position. I also had no failures to feed or eject.

I’m not a mechanical engineer. But I assume Smith & Wesson reduced the tension and strength of the M&P380’s recoil spring to make the slide work much easier. This weaker spring may be allowing the slide to snap back just a little too hard for more powerful .380 loads, putting undue pressure on the thumb safety and causing it to move. It is, after all, a switch that can be flicked on and off with minimal effort from one digit.

Of course, people who experienced this issue could have used some reloaded .380 ammo or some super high-velocity factory variety. Or maybe they limp-wristed the pistol, which can cause all sorts of issues with any semi-auto, or had the thumb of one of their hands in a bad position.

smith wesson M&P 380 shield
The author didn't have a jam or failure to eject after putting 150 rounds through a brand new M&P380 Shield EZ.Smith & Wesson

According to the gun makers advisory, “To ensure that every Smith & Wesson handgun meets our standards for reliability and performance, as of April 4, 2018, we have engineered the manual safety so that it will be less susceptible to the influence of ammunition weight, velocity and loads. Any M&P 380 Shield EZ Manual Thumb Safety pistol produced before April 4, is eligible for a no-cost upgrade.”

Anyone who wishes to have their safety modified should contact Smith & Wesson at 1-800-331-0852 or MP380EZAdvisory@Smith-Wesson.com with any questions concerning this advisory.

Obviously, the last thing needed in a self-defense situation is for the pistol to go “SAFE” on its own. I would be very interested to compare my M&P 380 Shield EZ, clearly made before the April 4, 2018, advisory date, to the slide action of a post-April 4 model, to see if the recoil spring has been tightened. It should also be noted that the pistol can be had without the manual safety, in which case it's not a concern. Plus, there's still the grip safety.

But I’d have no worries carrying the M&P 380 Shield EZ loaded with any the seven brands of ammunition I used. It’s not only easy to load and work, it’s very accurate. For a small .380 priced just under $400, you will have a difficult time beating the M&P380 Shield EZ.

Additionally, anyone with physical limitations that effect their hands can defend themselves with confidence, knowing for certain they can adequately operate every aspect of their firearm, from loading to chambering a round.

Pistol Specs

As Tested: M&P®380 Shield EZ w/ Optional Manual Thumb Safety
Caliber: .380 AUTO
Action: Internal Hammer Fired
Capacity: 8+1 Rounds
Barrel Length: 3.675”
Barrel Material: Stainless Steel w/Armornite Finish
Front Sight: White Dot
Rear Sight: Adjustable White Dot
Sight Radius: 5.65”
Slide Material: Stainless Steel w/Armornite Finish
Frame Material: Polymer
Frame Width (Less Controls): 1.05” (2.7 cm)
Overall Height (Including Sights): 5.0”
Overall Length: 6.7”
Sight Radius: 5.65”
Grip: Polymer
Weight: 18.5 oz.
Includes: Two (2) 8-Round M&P380 Shield magazines
Suggested Retail: $399.00