The .380 ACP is sometimes given short shrift. It isn’t a 9 mm, and to a lot of people that makes it puny. Maybe, but a .380 in your holster beats a 9 mm left at home. The problem with a lot of .380s is they are blowback designs, which require a strong recoil spring. Smith & Wesson (S&W), however, built the M&P 380 Shield EZ as a locked-breech pistol, which allowed them to make the recoil spring a lot softer. Those with less-than-great hand strength will find it a lot easier to load and unload. To make the 380 Shield EZ even more attractive, S&W added a grip safety and a Crimson Trace laser.
At first glance, the 380 Shield EZ is a scaled-down version of the M&P 2.0 pistol, but the 380 Shield EZ is thinner and lighter, as it doesn’t need to handle the 9 mm’s chamber pressure.
Its slide and barrel are stainless steel. It is through-hardened (not just surface-hardened) and then given S&W’s Armornite finish. The frame is polymer, but unlike some polymer pistols, the interior chassis that supports its fire-control parts is one piece. The benefit in this feature is the stress of the trigger press is supported by steel, not just polymer.
The 380 Shield EZ does not have replaceable backstraps. It is as small and slim as S&W could make it, and most users do not want it to be bigger.
Inside the frame, the 380 Shield EZ also differs from some of S&W’s bigger pistols since it uses an internal hammer, not a striker system. Using a hammer allows S&W to have a softer recoil spring, as the hammer spring works to dampen some of the slide-cycle forces when the pistol is fired. Since the 380 Shield EZ does not have to be dry-fired to disassemble it, there is no need for the hammer to ever be in the down position.
The 380 Shield EZ does have the S&W M&P type backstrap bumper that also acts as a magazine funnel. Its .380 magazines hold eight rounds each, are easy to load and the pistol comes with a pair of them.
On top of the slide, S&W has installed three-dot sights. There are a host of aftermarket sight makers that can provide you with tritium night sights if you wish. Both sights are in dovetails, and the rear can be loosened and moved laterally to adjust point of impact. You have to replace the front with one taller or shorter to change its vertical point of impact, but that is rarely necessary.
Empties are removed from the chamber by means of a hefty extractor. For those who find it useful, the 380 Shield EZ also has a loaded chamber indicator—this is a spring-loaded lever on the top of the slide. When there is a round in the chamber, the lever is up—you can both see it and feel it.
The frame has an accessory rail where you can mount a light, laser or combo unit. The 380 Shield EZ that arrived for review came with a Crimson Trace Green Laserguard already installed. The Crimson Trace clamps onto the accessory rail, while the activation button is part of the laser body extension. The extension closely follows the trigger guard down under the magazine button (this is reversible for left-handed shooters). When you pick up the 380 Shield EZ, pressure on the laser button turns on the beam. It is easy to learn how much pressure you need to activate the laser. It also provides a good tactical reminder: Don’t clutch the pistol. When you pick it up, the laser will pop on.
The barrel of the 380 Shield EZ is 3.675 inches long—long enough to get most of the velocity out of a .380 cartridge, but not so long that it makes the pistol too large.
The weight, at 19.1 ounces, makes the 380 Shield EZ light in the hand. Since it is so soft in recoil, you don’t need more weight just to be able to handle it. Still, the load used matters. In testing, the Hornady XTP load was markedly softer in recoil than the others, which isn’t surprising as it has 9% less bullet weight and 12% less velocity than the Federal Premium HST JHP load.
As with all defensive firearms, you should use ammunition that works with 100% reliability (all three did) and one you feel you can comfortably handle.
The 380 Shield EZ can be had with or without the thumb safety. While the grip safety is plenty to keep the pistol safe, some feel the need for the thumb safety as well.
As a main carry pistol for hot-weather clothing, or for those who might find that a 9 mm recoils too much, the M&P 380 Shield EZ is a good choice. And if you are looking for a light, compact, easy-to-shoot .380, but aren’t a fan of lasers, the 380 Shield EZ sans laser is only $399. That’s a good deal.