Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Equalizer

posted on April 26, 2023
Smith & Wesson Equalizer
Photo: Peter Fountain

Smith & Wesson’s newest gun is called the Equalizer, and though it’s no Wild West-style gun, I nonetheless get tumbleweed vibes from the name. You know: outside the dusty goldminers’ town, a train wails its sad song. A woman races to her ramshackle cabin, bars the door against approaching outlaws and makes sure her gun is loaded. Maybe ol’ Wyatt Earp will show up to help even the odds, but either way, this tough pioneer woman is prepared to defend her own.

That’s the legacy we’re talking about here, after all. It’s great to have other defenders, but ultimately, we—we of any gender and age and in any living situation—must be able to defend ourselves. But not everyone can easily manage the mechanics of a semi-automatic pistol, which is what most would choose as their ideal self-defense tool.

Smith & Wesson Equalizer

Enter the Equalizer, a gun that truly levels the playing field. First, its steel, Armonite-coated slide is about 35% easier to rack (per S&W’s measure)—just like its M&P Shield EZ line of guns has. That alone is going to increase success rates and decrease the intimidation factor for novices, but they didn’t stop there; they also added significantly deeper slide serrations to ensure you get that grip you need for racking. Also, little “ears” at the back of the slide add another gripping point to prevent your hand from unintentionally sliding off as you try to rack. Finally, the rear sight is designed so that those who still can’t rack the slide themselves can use it to rack against a desk or other hard edge.

But don’t get me wrong—the Equalizer is a fine gun for anyone. It comes with three magazines of various capacities, so it’s very well suited to those who want a gun small enough to conceal but also want higher-capacity potential for home defense and for less-tedious range practice. And, if you happen to have a S&W Shield Plus at home, you can use its magazines in this gun as well. (Unlike with the EZ line, loading the Equalizer’s magazines is not going to be any easier than regular double-stacks; however, the company wisely included a Maglula UpLula speed loader to help.) Adding to this gun’s multi-purpose utility is a three-slot Picatinny rail below the barrel. If you want to add a flashlight, laser or Shield RMSc/Holosun 507K-footprint optic, it’s easy to do so.

Smith & Wesson Equalizer features
The Equalizer offers easier racking and deep slide serrations. The grip safety is as intuitive as manual safeties get, but may cause a lower-than-ideal grip. An optics cut and Picatinny rail paired with 10-, 13- and 15-round mags ensure multi-purpose use.

The Equalizer is a polymer 9 mm, so you will feel its recoil, but the gun’s lightened recoil spring means you don’t feel it as much as comparably sized guns. The gun’s 18-degree grip angle helps get it on target quickly, and its grip texturing is aggressive enough without being problematic. The magazine-release button, which is reversible for lefties, was a little far forward for me to easily press with my dominant hand, so that may be a minor factor for smaller-handed shooters, but the magazines all dropped without problems. The gun’s metal, M&P-style, three-white-dot sights are perfectly acceptable, especially for indoor shooting, and they will co-witness with an optic, as is ideal. 

The Equalizer is internal-hammer fired, and thus the trigger is perhaps marginally better than striker-fired systems, but I doubt the average shooter could tell. The trigger has a standard amount of travel, a nice break and a reasonably discernible reset. The reset click is audible but also fairly quiet, and I didn’t think the feel of the reset was the most obvious, either, so owners may need to train a little harder to dial the reset point into instinct.

Smith & Wesson Equalizer specsS&W told me the trigger pull weight should be 4.75 pounds, plus or minus 1.25 pounds. My lowest measurement was 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and my average was closer to 6—within the realm of their measurements, but higher than I expected. (Measurement methods could account for this discrepancy, as even moving the instrument further down on the trigger can change the result.) As competition is not one of the multiple purposes for which this gun is designed, the trigger is certainly more than adequate.

The Equalizer is reliable. I tried making it malfunction by using as diverse a mix of ammo as I could get into its magazines and by rapid-firing. In 500 rounds, I experienced only two failures; when I removed the lightest ammo from the mix, I did not experience any malfunctions.

My main frustration with the Equalizer is the same as with the EZ line: the ergonomics of the backstrap safety. A high grip on any handgun is encouraged because it reduces muzzle flip, but when I grip this gun as high as I want to, I can miss fully activating the grip safety. With my smaller hands, my thumb tucks right into the area between the grip safety and the tang. Newer gun owners—or at least those with smaller hands—may learn a non-ideal hold at the top of the grip safety, instead of just below the tang, and so could suffer more muzzle flip than necessary, but this is easily overcome with training.

Disassembly of the Equalizer is like the EZ and has the same potential pitfalls. When disassembling, you must avoid activating the grip safety and pulling the trigger. The natural thing when field-stripping your gun for the first time is to follow along with the step-by-step instructions. According to this manual, you bring your slide back and activate the slide lock, press the take-down lever to perpendicular, deactivate the slide lock and finally bring the slide forward. But the slide will not actually continue forward off the gun if you depressed the grip safety during this process—and a note in the manual lets you know this information after you’ve already read the other steps. People new to this gun are likely to be holding it as normal, such that they will very likely activate that grip safety as they attempt disassembly—and so their slide will be locked up before they even get to the warning. Fortunately, it’s also very easy to fix. Grab the gun without activating the grip safety and wiggle the slide back and forth as you push it forward. (This information is not in the manual, but online videos show the process.) Once the slide is off, you just remove the rod and captive spring and lift out the barrel, and you’re all set for cleaning.

Smith & Wesson Equalizer shooting results

My overall assessment of the Equalizer is that it is a good gun for most people’s needs, and a great gun for new shooters and those who struggle with standard semi-automatics. I recommend it to anyone who needs a very reasonably priced, reliable, multi-purpose firearm, but, as a trainer, I particularly appreciate the way this gun can make novices feel more successful and less intimidated and thus help them overcome the learning curve. The EZ already offered that, but this is a clear step up in terms of capacity and multi-purpose use, and it’s more fun to shoot than many comparable guns thanks to the lightened recoil spring. If, as the old saying goes, God made men and Col. Colt made them equal, well, S&W just made equal easier. 



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