January 12, 2024
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There’s a definite attitude in certain circles that unless you can handle a firearm as well as the best shooters, you are lacking. We’ll overlook the detail that for a lot of tasks, the SpecOps people who are sent out to do a job are not sent because they are the best shooters to be found. You need not be a USPSA Grandmaster, if your job is to scuba up to a vessel at pier and attach a limpet mine to it and leave, all un-noticed. But, to the crowd who cares, incorrectly, if you can’t handle the recoil of “a real gun” you get looked at with pity. Neither one of my grandmothers could have done a pull-up, but if you had tried to harm a hair on their grandkids head, you’d have probably died an ugly death at the hands of “Grams.” Grams’ need firearms like the rest of us, but neither of mine could have managed the slide on my .45 ACP lightweight commander either.
Enter the Equalizer
While it looks like the M&P series, the Equalizer is an internal-hammer design, and there’s a good reason for that. One of the hindrances those who might be lacking in hand strength have with handguns (or firearms in general) is getting the slide back or action open. An internal hammer design requires that the recoil forces spend some of their energy cocking the hammer. This takes more energy out of the system than cocking the relatively weight-free parts of a striker system. As a result, a pistol with a hammer can use a lighter recoil spring than a striker pistol can, for the same function (slide velocity, etc). This means that your Grams, as long as she does not dry-fire the Equalizer, will find the slide easier to retract than a similarly-sized striker pistol. S&W has incorporated their EZ technology in the Equalizer, so the first time I pulled it out of the box, I almost hurt myself retracting the slide. I had been working with a bunch of compact pistols, some of them in the manly .45 ACP, and they all had had stout recoil springs. I grabbed the Equalizer, and the slide was so easy to pull back I practically yanked it out of my hand. Yep, it’s that easy. To make retracting the slide even easier, the slide has capacious cocking serrations on the front and rear of the slide. There is nothing subtle about the grooves on the Equalizer, they are there for a purpose, and the purpose is not to provide an elegant appearance. Additionally, the last raised rib on the rear cocking serration array is larger/taller than the rest, and that also adds gripping security.
The slide has a set of three-dot iron sights on top, and they are steel, unlike some pistol sights. Polymer has a lot of useful applications, but as sights, not so much. And dots? Personally, three-dot sights stopped being a thing for me back in about 1989, but people still like them, and makers make them. If you are also not a fan, they are easily-enough blacked out. Or replaced with tritium night sights. Or, you can go red-dot. The top of the Equalizer slide is machined for a red-dot optic, and there’s a cover plate you’ll have to remove to gain access, but once you take the plate off, you can then mount pretty much any red-dot optic that is on the market these days. I could tell you that all the red-dot optics here in Gun Abuse Central were mounted on other pistols. (True.) Or that I had a big pistol match coming up where I had to try and get in some iron-sight practice (true) and felt the Equalizer with its nice trigger would be good practice. However, I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to break out the tools, bolt and unbolt, and then zero a red-dot, when the Equalizer was hitting right to the sights, right out of the box. We gun writers can be a lazy lot. With a pistol this easy, lazy can be too tempting.
The hammer is hidden inside the slide, like some of Browning’s earliest designs, so you can’t see at a glance if the hammer is cocked, nor can you ease the hammer down. But, knowing if the hammer is cocked is pretty much useless information, and being able to thumb-lower the hammer is a hazardous option and exercise, so best that the hammer is hidden away. To make the Equalizer and its hidden hammer an easier task for Grams, there is a grip safety on the back of the frame. So, if it is sitting in a drawer (not when there are kids around, just to be clear) the firing mechanism is locked and won’t respond until your hand compresses the grip safety. So, hammer cocked? Who cares, the grip safety is there. Grip safeties are anathema to some. I have to admit to fussing a lot over grip safeties on the 1911, especially back in the early days, but the Equalizer solves the 1911 grip safety geometry by putting the grip safety hinge on the bottom. So, if you have a grasp enough of the Equalizer to fire it, your hand will have completely compressed the grip safety. Attractive? Perhaps not, such things depend on taste as much as anything else. Effective? You bet.
If you want one, the Smith & Wesson Equalizer can be had with an ambidextrous thumb safety. The one sent here did not have it, and I’d suggest you fondle one with a thumb safety (or have your Grams grab onto one) because the position of thumb safeties can be a very individual thing. On some pistols I don’t notice them at all, they just work naturally for me. Some are real work if they don’t sit where my thumb “expects” them to be. On the Equalizer I don’t know, but since they make them both ways, you have a choice. The grip of the Equalizer has a non-slip pattern and is made without any finger grooves or other unnecessary additions. I’ve not ever found a finger groove pattern that actually fits my fingers, and S&W has left them off. The bottom of the frame, at the rear of the magazine well, is extended just a bit, to act as a mag funnel and make reloading faster and smoother. And, for those who are going to be mounting a light, for house use and not daily carry, the Equalizer has an accessory rail on the frame, so you have a place for your light. The trigger pull on the Equalizer is nice. Not custom-1911 nice, but if your only experience is with the run-of-the-mill striker fired pistol, you will be pleasantly surprised by the Equalizer. There’s some take-up, then the trigger stops, and once you get up to the pull weight, the hammer drops. There’s some over-travel, but none of this is at all a problem. Now, those who are enamored of feeling the re-set, and hearing the click, so you don’t have to move your finger more than you need to, will be disappointed. I’m not one to spend wasted time fussing over that and try as I might I could not get a good feel of the re-set, but as nice as the Equalizer trigger is, you won’t have to spend extra effort managing re-set anyway.
Now, to the matter of size. The Equalizer is a compact or micro-compact pistol. The barrel length, just under four inches, would indicate that it is a micro-compact, and the flush-mount magazine of ten rounds would lead you to that conclusion as well. But, the Equalizer ships with three magazines. (Who does that these days? Most pistols ship with only two, and some with a sole magazine. Three mags? Such luxury is uncommon, so thank you S&W.) And the second and third magazines hold thirteen and fifteen rounds respectively. Yes, they do protrude below the bottom of the frame, which is good, and the extended basepads are contoured to match the frame, so you can have a micro-compact pistol, or a compact with micro-barrel pistol, your choice. Oh, and just as a bonus, and because the S&W engineers are nothing if not clever, the magazines are Shield Plus magazines, so you aren’t locked into some one-off proprietary magazine just to let Grams have a house blaster. And here, also, S&W looks out for those who might need a hand. An extra hand, that is. The Equalizer not only ships with three magazines, but with an Uplula magazine loader. So, loading magazines, which can be a real hassle to some, is a lot easier. Remember, we’re looking at the Equalizer as a defensive pistol for someone who does not have rock-crushing hand strength. Even us manly gun writers find a mag loader useful as the day progresses — and, there’s the “last rounds” problem solved as well. You know, the “ten-round magazine” that needs a mallet to get rounds nine and ten into it? Without a Uplula Universal pistol magazine loader, those magazines either need really strong hands, or they become by default eight-round magazines. S&W isn’t letting that happen with the Equalizer, so the loader is included in the box — you are getting a $35 bonus right off the bat.
The flush-mount ten round magazines leave the Equalizer frame just long enough for me to get my last finger on the frame, but just barely. Using the 13-round mags, I’ve got room for my firing hand, and with the 15-round mags I can feel the bottom edge of the magazine contacting the heel of my support hand. As a carry option, for best concealment, the 10-round magazine creates the most compact package. For shooting, the 15-round magazine gives you the best surface area to grab onto. Which you go with is a personal choice and should be considered along with how you dress and what holster you use. For this pistol, I had a Crossbreed Supertuck, and found it comfortable, secure and easy to use at the range. Disassembly is the usual: unload and remove the magazine. Lock the slide back, then rotate the disassembly lever on the left side. Once it is pointed down, ease the slide back enough to unlock it, and then ease the slide assembly forward off of the frame. Pry the recoil spring assembly out of its seat in the barrel lug, then tip the barrel down and out. Done.
Shooting the Equalizer was uneventful, as all the ammo fired and ejected empties, the slide locked back on each of the magazines, and the Equalizer hit to the sights. Now, I have to admit that I was not really expecting good things from the Equalizer as far as accuracy goes. I mean, we’re talking a short barrel, and thus a short sight radius. And despite the nice trigger, it is light in weight, so I expected the pushing-around I’d get would have not-good effects on accuracy. I really should be more optimistic about products from S&W, it isn’t like making handguns, even pistols, is a new thing to them, they’ve been making handguns for a good long time. And the Equalizer performed admirably. Oh, it isn’t a Bullseye gun, make no mistake there. But for a light, compact carry or home gun, boy does it shoot. However, you have to be realistic, both in accuracy and in ammunition selection. I have no doubt the Equalizer will stand up to any factory 9mm you care to put through it. It is an S&W, after all. But, if you are offering this as an option to someone with limited hand strength, then you need to keep your ammo selection in the mild zone, not the duty zone (as in police duty).
As much as I think the best defensive ammunition for the 9mm are loads like the Hornady Critical Duty and the Winchester PDX1, those are stiff loads even before you venture into +P territory. They have Power Factors of 135 and 142 respectively, and your Grams is not going to enjoy he first range trip if you insist on having her shoot those. Instead, something softer like the Barnaul 115 FMJ, or even the Wilson Combat Low Recoil load, which are soft and softer in recoil. In the case of this particular Equalizer (all firearms are different, and they will show preferences) the sweet spot of recoil and accuracy is the load from Black Hills I tested. With a 115 JHP at 1,112 fps, it was neither the softest nor the sharpest load I fired, but boy was it the most accurate. Your Equalizer will have its own preferences, so test and find out what it likes.For Grams, make the first range trip short and enjoyable, and you will increase the chances that she’ll will be willing to entertain the notion of self-defense with the Equalizer. And, she might even want to go with you on the next one. If the Smith & Wesson Equalizer is for you, and you have plenty of hand strength, then go for the hottest load that you can shoot accurately, because S&W makes their guns for use, and short of hitting the lotto you won’t be able to afford enough ammo to wear one out.
Smith & Wesson Equalizer Specs
- Type: Single-action-only, semiautomatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 10, 13, 15 rds.
- Barrel: 3.675 in., stainless steel with Armornite finish
- Length: 6.75 in.
- Height: 4.5 in.
- Width: 1.04 in.
- Weight: 22.9 oz. (w/unloaded 13-rd. magazine)
- Slide: Stainless steel
- Finish: Armornite (nitride)
- Grip/Frame: Polymer
- Sights: Steel, 3-dot, optics ready slide cut for Shield RMSc/Holosun 507k
- Trigger Pull: 5 lbs. (tested)
- Safety: Grip safety (thumb safety model available)
- MSRP: $599
- Accessories: 10, 13, and 15-rd magazines, magazine loader, cable lock
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson Inc.
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