September 21, 2020
By James Tarr
When it was announced, the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ was one of those guns that I couldn’t wait to hate. First off, I hated the name — too long. Seriously, say it out loud, it’s thirteen syllables, that’s more than antidisestablishmentarianism. Then, I hated the very idea of it: S&W took one of their most popular and smart guns ever, sized it up to make it less concealable, and then chambered it in a smaller, weaker cartridge. The original Shield was offered in 9mm and .40 S&W, and this new pistol was “only” a .380 ACP.
But…then I laid hands on it, and I experienced everything S&W did to make this gun easier to load, clean, shoot, etc. I fell in love with the gun. The only downside to the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ in many people’s minds was the caliber. To fix that, S&W recently introduced a 9mm version of the Shield EZ (the M&P9 Shield EZ, a slightly better name) and now they’ve introduced a semi-custom version of that same pistol, the Performance Center M&P9 Shield EZ. I obtained a sample for this article.
You’ve all already seen the photos accompanying this article of the pistol in question. For those of you thinking, “What the pimp-in-a-purple-fedora hell is going on here?,” let me explain. This pistol is available in three color variations — all black, black with silver highlights, and black with gold highlights as you see here. Everyone knows what black and silver look like, but as for a gun with gold highlights, it could look classy, or trashy, or somewhere in-between, which is why I chose this gun, so you could see for yourself. I will leave it to you to decide if you like the aesthetic. The gold (as is the silver and black) is anodizing, not 24K.
Overall this pistol is 7.0 inches long and 5.0 inches tall and weighs 23.2 ounces with a magazine in place. Chambered in 9mm, this pistol is fed by eight-round magazines and has a 3.83-inch barrel. All three-color variations of this pistol are available with or without a bilateral thumb safety, and I obtained a sample with a thumb safety.
Let’s start at the beginning with the original 9mm Shield and do a little history lesson and study the family tree, working forward from there to the .380 Shield EZ, then circle halfway back around to this new 9mm Performance Center Shield EZ model.
Introduced in 2012, the original S&W M&P Shield was an immediate and huge success. It was a compact, single stack (kinda) version of the M&P, chambered in 9mm and fed by flush seven-round or extended eight-round magazines. It sported a 3.1-inch barrel and weighed 19 ounces. It was built to the same tough standards as the full-size M&P pistols, as S&W wanted cops to buy them as backups to their M&P duty guns in addition to private citizens buying them for personal protection. That meant it had steel sights, a stainless-steel barrel and slide, and the durability testing of the Shield was off the charts. When S&W debuted the gun, they invited a bunch of gunwriters to their facility and in two days I put 700 rounds through a Shield without a single problem. Everybody else there fired as many rounds (we burned through cases and cases of ammo), and nobody had problems with their guns.
Smith & Wesson’s Shield wasn’t the first compact 9mm semi-auto, but it led a fresh wave of them, and compact and even subcompact 9mm pistols now seem to be the preferred carry pieces for private citizens. They are, however, not perfect.
To tame the recoil of 9mm loads in a small light gun, the Shield and guns like it have to be equipped with strong recoil springs, making the slides tough to cycle by hand. And, even with strong recoil springs, recoil can be quite snappy and unpleasant even if you’re young and strong. And that’s with 9mm — the .40 S&W Shield is downright abusive.
In 2018, Smith & Wesson introduced the M&P380 Shield EZ, which was designed to address those above few negatives with the original Shield. It still had the same stainless-steel barrel and slide, but the caliber was changed to the softer-recoiling .380 ACP. The barrel was extended from 3.1- to 35⁄8-inches. The grip was lengthened so just about everyone could get their hand on the gun, but the gun itself wasn’t any heavier. Physically it is about half an inch longer and three-eighths of an inch taller than the 9mm/.40 S&W Shield.
Smith & Wesson changed a lot of things on this pistol to make it much easier to load the magazines, easier to chamber a round, easier to shoot, and easier to disassemble for cleaning than a standard Shield.
First, the EZ’s magazines are only centerfire handgun magazines that I can think of which feature a thumb stud on the side of the follower to make it easier to load. Just about every .22 LR pistol has magazines with this feature, but you just don’t see them elsewhere. The stainless-steel magazines hold eight rounds and have very visible orange followers. The rounds are numbered on the side of the magazines.
The rear serrations on the slide from the side appear identical to those found on other M&Ps, but if you view the slide from the top you’ll see the difference. The rear of the slide is wider just behind the rear serrations, and the resulting ledge of steel is a definite help in working the slide. The only other centerfire pistol I’ve seen that has a feature like this is the HK VP9, but the slide “wings” on the VP9 are a polymer insert, whereas with the .380 Shield they’re integral with the slide. You’ll need them, as the single-sided slide stop is small, and doesn’t really work as a slide release unless you’ve got really really strong thumbs.
When I picked the pistol up I was immediately reminded of the .22 LR version of the full-size M&P, because there was no striker cover on the rear of the slide. A quick disassembly showed me that, like the .22, this M&P was not a striker-fired gun but rather one which had an internal hammer. There’s a reason for this, and it is related to the ease with which the shooter can cycle the slide.
.380s traditionally have strong recoil springs to counteract the force of the fired cartridge as they have straight blowback operation. The M&P380 Shield EZ has the same tilting barrel delayed blowback operating system as other Shields, so a stiffer recoil spring is not required. In fact, the recoil spring on the .380 is noticeably lighter than that found on the 9mm Shield. And, that lighter recoil spring is one of the reasons this pistol is an internal hammer fired design as opposed to a striker-fired design, as the recoil spring has to fight against a striker spring when going into battery. With a strong striker spring and a weak recoil spring, theoretically if this was a striker-fired gun pulling the trigger might cause the slide to move back out of battery.
If you take a look at the trigger, you’ll see it does not have that pivoting safety feature found on the striker-fired M&Ps. Instead, this pistol has a grip safety.
Because it pivots from the bottom (rather than the top like a traditional 1911 grip safety), it seems easier to deactivate if you’ve got thin/flat hands (like me). Unlike the grip safety on the Springfield Armory XD/XD(M), you can cycle the slide on the EZ without needing to depress the grip safety.
Smith & Wesson advertises that the M&P380 Shield EZ is also easier to disassemble. With the standard M&Ps, you need to lock the slide to the rear, rotate the takedown lever, and then push down on the internal sear lever before you can release the slide so that it comes off the gun. With the EZ, they’ve simplified disassembly. Lock the slide to the rear on an empty gun, push the takedown lever down, and then release the slide. The slide will come right off the gun without needing to mess with any internal levers.
The M&P 380 Shield EZ is an amazing gun to shoot. It actually has such soft recoil it seems like firing a .22. The only problem, as far as some people were concerned? It was chambered in .380 ACP.
So, in 2019, Smith & Wesson introduced a 9mm version of the Shield EZ. This basically stuffed a 9mm into the package that was the Shield EZ, with all of the ergonomic and mechanical improvements seen on the .380 model. Dimensions were nearly identical, however, the 9mm version is 2.6 ounces heavier to handle the more powerful cartridge.
One of the selling points of the original .380 ACP Shield EZ was how easy it was to manipulate, including working the slide. The recoil spring on the M&P9 Shield EZ is stronger, but I have an original Shield 9mm and compared the two side by side — the slide is noticeably easier to rack on the 9mm Shield EZ than it is on my original 9mm Shield, a gun that already has a thousand rounds through it.
Now, finally, we have arrived at the subject of today’s article, the fancy Performance Center version of the M&P9 Shield EZ. By now your eyes should have adjusted to the glare off the fancy gold parts. The barrel, aluminum trigger, and aluminum grip safety sport matching anodizing, whether that’s silver, gold, or black. No matter which color you prefer, whether you want a model with a thumb safety or not, every version of the Performance Center M&P9 Shield EZ has an MSRP of $588.00.
The fancy colors aren’t the only difference, however. You’ll note the extended barrel. Instead of a flush 3.675-inch barrel, the Performance Center version of the M&P9 Shield EZ wears a 3.83-inch barrel with a single port to help reduce recoil. And there is an actual expansion chamber at the end of the barrel, the rifling does not go all the way to the muzzle. There are three stylish relief cuts on either side of the slide which show off the barrel.
Before I dive in the peculiarities of this Performance Center Model I would like to point out that this gun is built on the M2.0 series of M&Ps, with all of their upgrades. That means it has a longer internal stainless-steel chassis, forward cocking serrations, and texturing on the grip that is noticeably more aggressive. The magazine release is reversible.
As for the sights, you’ll see they are not the traditional 3-dot steel sights found on M&Ps. These sights are in fact Hi-Viz Litewave H3 sights. You can see that there are green fiber optic inserts in both the front and rear sights. Also, inside the steel sight bodies, forward of the fiber optic rods, are tritium inserts that glow in low light, so you can see the green dots no matter what lighting conditions you’re confronted with.
There is a loaded chamber indicator atop the slide, a pivoting lever. The thumb safety (if you chose that model) should be familiar in looks and function to anyone who has handled a 1911. The magazine spring is a little stronger than on the .380 EZ, but you still have those tabs on either side of the follower, so loading the magazine isn’t a chore.
The fancy trigger on this Performance Center model is aluminum. It has a wide, flat, serrated face, with three lightening holes sideways through it. However, the improvements to the trigger aren’t just cosmetic—inside the pistol you’ll find an improved Performance Center sear as well as a redesigned plunger safety. The combination of the two provide a better-than-standard trigger pull.
The PC sear results in less takeup, provides a crisper break and more tactile reset, and the trigger pull as a result seems to be slightly shorter. The safety plunger in the slide is pushed upward by the trigger bar as you pull the trigger, deactivating the firing pin/striker safety. This safety prevents the gun from firing if dropped. The Performance Center gurus replaced the safety plunger in the slide with an improved model designed to smooth out the trigger pull. Instead of a nearly square profile with only slightly radiused edges, the PC plunger is nearly round. Glocks have a similar safety plunger, and the same sort of improved plungers have been an essential part of any Glock trigger upgrade for close to a decade. Replacing the plunger on a Glock is a two-minute job using only a push pin. To replace the plunger on an M&P you have to remove the rear sight — so getting the Performance Center to do it for you while assembling the gun saves you a lot of work.
The improved sear and safety plunger provide a smoother, crisper and shorter trigger pull. M&P M2.0 models have improved trigger pulls over the first generation, bringing the pull weight down from an average 6.5-pounds to six pounds or less. I’ve pulled the trigger on a lot of M&Ps and Shields, and I have to say the trigger pull on this pistol is the shortest I’ve ever seen, and the same is true for the reset. There’s almost no take-up, and reset is about an eighth of an inch.
Between the crispness, shortness, reset, and weight, this pistol provided one of the best overall trigger pulls I’ve ever felt on a striker-fired gun. I estimated it was a four-pound trigger pull, and was shocked when I measured it and discovered it was actually 5.75 pounds. That’s how short and crisp the pull was.
There is a three-slot tactical rail on the front of the frame. Fitting a full-size weapon light onto the gun might be a stretch, but with a smaller light the multiple slots give you options on positioning it for perfect fingertip access.
In addition to two stainless-steel eight-round magazines, this Performance Center pistol is supplied with a 14-piece cleaning kit. The kit comes in a small zippered case and has a T-rod, brushes, jags, patches, basically everything you need to clean your gun other than solvent and a rag to wipe it down when you’re done.
Gun in hand, it was time for me to head to the range…however now we come to the only issue with this otherwise solid gun — the grip safety. The original grip safety on the M&P380 and M&P9 Shield EZ was and is polymer. Even though when compressed the top of it protruded from the frame of the gun a quarter inch or so you didn’t notice it when shooting, as it had smooth, rounded edges and didn’t impede your ability to get a good grip on the gun.
The grip safety on the Performance Center M&P9 Shield EZ, on the other hand, is aluminum, with vertical serrations. Which shouldn’t matter, if they had made the aluminum grip safety to the same dimensions as the original polymer one. They didn’t.
At the top of the aluminum grip safety you will see both a sharp edge and corners. Edges and corners are the last thing you want digging into the web of your hand when you’re shooting, especially if they are made of metal. The only way to avoid them is to position your hand very low on the gun, which you shouldn’t do — your hand should be as high as possible on the gun to help control muzzle rise. Your hand should be snugged up against the polymer beavertail, right underneath the slide — that is, after all what the beavertail is there for. If you do that, the corners of the grip safety will poke you — depending on your hand size and shape, either only a tiny bit or a whole lot.
That said, until I actually put rounds downrange I could only guess just how much pain this pistol would inflict on me.
When I loaded my first magazine and started pulling the trigger…once again a S&W EZ pistol surprised me. I’m not sure why the sharp corners of the grip safety didn’t poke my hand any more while shooting than they did while I was holding it, but I was shocked that every pull of the trigger didn’t cause me pain. After fifty rounds, there was barely even a red mark on the web of my hand from the grip safety.
Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to see how many rounds I needed to put through this pistol until I was actually in pain. To do this, I fired several boxes of Federal Syntech ammo, as well as ZQI and Winchester 9mm NATO ammo, which is hot, nearly +P ammo. First, I ran a plate rack a few times, then I decided to shoot the new, quick, 25-round 5X5 IDPA classifier course with this CCW-sized pistol.
The IDPA classifier is four strings, shot at an IDPA target ten yards away — 1. Draw and fire 5 rounds. 2. Draw and fire 5 rounds strong hand. 3. Draw, fire 5 rounds to slide lock, reload, and fire 5 more rounds. 4. Fire 4 rounds at the body and 1 round at the head. Any hits outside the center zone of the body or head count for added time per shot. Since I didn’t have a holster for the EZ I did everything from the low ready. I repeated the 25-round classifier eight times, for a total of 200 rounds, in near 90-degree weather, until I was sweaty and exhausted.
And a Good Time Was Had by All
The M&P9 Shield EZ honestly shoots as well as some full-size guns. I could consistently shoot an Expert score with this unfamiliar pistol with my total time (with time added for errant shots) somewhere around 21 seconds each run. Yes, I know I wasn’t drawing from a holster, so it’s not official, I already said that.
A Shield chambered in .380 has very minimal recoil. It honestly shoots like a .22, but of course a lot of people don’t think the .380 ACP is a serious defensive round. As an example, a .380 ACP sends 90-grain bullets downrange at 900 fps out of a barrel this length. A 9mm, on the other hand, sends 124-grain bullets out at 1,050 fps or more. That’s a thirty percent increase in power. As a result, recoil is noticeably more, however this pistol is still very controllable. More so than the original Shield, which was surprisingly shootable for a compact gun.
Occasionally I could see the gases venting out the port in the barrel, even in direct sunlight, so I know the compensator was doing its job. How much the muzzle rise was reduced I can’t say exactly as I didn’t have an un-ported pistol to compare it to, but previously when testing ported-vs-un-ported S&W Shields muzzle rise seemed to be reduced 15% or so, and that’s probably what this ported barrel gets you.
It took 200 rounds before the web of my hand was sore and starting to blister from the corners of the grip safety. That would not have happened at all if they’d rounded the corners, and as they say (based on hand size and shape) your experience may differ, but I was still pleasantly surprised. Hopefully S&W realizes their mistake and rounds those corners, so nobody gets sore no matter how many rounds they fire.
Compared to the original 9mm Shield the M&P9 Shield EZ has a longer grip with a more ergonomic profile, allowing you to get more hand on the gun. It is also four ounces heavier, helping to tame recoil. In my opinion bullet placement is far more important than caliber, and so personally even though I am not recoil sensitive I don’t know that I would choose a 9mm EZ over a .380, even though I’m a big fan of the 9mm cartridge, simply because the recoil in the .380 ACP is so minimal. But Smith & Wesson now makes multiple variations of both guns, no matter your preference, including these fancy Performance Center versions.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P9 Shield EZ Specs
- Action: Single action semi-automatic
- Calier: 9mm
- Magazine Capacity: 8+1
- Barrel: 3.83", ported
- Overall Length: 7.0"
- Overall Height: 5.0"
- Width: 1.45" (at the safety)
- Frame: Black polymer
- Slide: Stainless steel
- Safeties: Grip, internal striker block, manual thumb
- Finish: Black Melonite, gold anodizing
- Sights: Hi-Viz Litewave fiber optic/tritium
- Trigger Pull: 5.75 lbs (as tested)
- Weight: 23.2 oz (empty, w/mag)
- Accessories: Two 8-round magazines, cable lock, cleaning kit
- MSRP: $588
- Contact: Smith & Wesson, Smith-Wesson.com, (800) 331-0852
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P9 Shield EZ Accuracy Results