I recently read this article by Lynne over at Female and Armed (which is a really fantastic blog, by the way) and it resonated so strongly with me that I thought I’d throw in my two cents concerning choosing a subcompact pistol for concealed carry.
Let’s be honest. How many abysmally awfully guns have you tried out in your search to find the perfect concealed carry pistol? I know I’ve shot more duds than I care to recall, and even own a few that ended up being entirely unsuitable for this application. It can be an expensive game of trial and error, not to mention extremely frustrating. Women have unique and specific requirements for purchasing a firearm to carry every day, and the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield fits those requirements better than any other subcompact, polymer pistol that I’ve tried thus far.
The Shield is a striker-fired pistol chambered in 9mm or .40 cal (I own the 9mm and have not yet tried the .40) that holds either 7+1 or 8+1 rounds, depending on which magazine you are using. Smith and Wesson developed the Shield to help meet the rising demand for a reliable pocket pistol that is easy to conceal and not a pain to shoot, literally. And they succeeded brilliantly on both counts.
Most importantly for an EDC pistol, I have found the Shield to be entirely reliable. I’ve not yet experienced a single malfunction despite having close to 2,000 rounds through it.
Additionally, the Shield is amazingly easy to carry, especially considering its caliber and capacity. Even more remarkable when you take into account that apparently most women’s clothes are made for impractical, tiny-handed super-models who spend all day sitting around doing nothing but looking pretty. You know what I mean, ladies. Happily, the slim width (Smith clocks it at .95 of an inch) causes it to nearly disappear even under a thin t-shirt. That, coupled with its compact size, produces an ideal pistol for inside-the-waistband carry. Even sitting down, the Shield doesn’t make you overtly aware of its presence. Which is good, because as we all know, if you have a gun that is uncomfortable to carry, or you can’t wear it with the majority of your clothes, you just won’t carry it.
There is more to an EDC pistol than just ease of carry and concealment, though. It is paramount to practice regularly with your gun, so you are familiar with the controls, grip and trigger. I very much enjoy practicing, (I’m a sucker for repetitive tasks), but shooting some of the smaller subcompact guns on the market can be frustrating and even painful, due to the reduced size and weight, heavy trigger pull and intense recoil. I’ve shot both the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard in .380 and the Ruger LCP and immediately discounted both of them as potential carry pistols due to the factors mentioned above. On the other hand, every time I go to the range, I end up buying a box of 9mm ammo because I just can’t leave without running a couple of mags through the Shield (at least that’s what I tell myself right before I blow through all 50 rounds). The Shield is tremendously accurate, the recoil is minimal for such a light gun, and the trigger reset is nothing short of sublime. Seriously, if you’re ever given the opportunity to pull the trigger on one of these little guys, do it. I’m pretty sure you’ll be reassessing your gun-buying budget post-haste.
While the Shield is a winner overall, there are definitely a few things that could be better. One of my biggest annoyances about this gun is the 7 round magazine. I find it difficult to both load and seat into the gun. At first, I thought this might be a break-in issue, and would resolve itself over time. However, nearly 4 months later, my concerns are still present. The spring inside of the magazine is tremendously stiff making it cumbersome to load the rounds. Once it is loaded, I find that I am rarely able to seat it properly on the first try, not matter how much strength I apply. I almost always have to insert the mag and then give it another tap to push it into place. I don’t have either of these problems with the extended magazine. Mostly this is fine, since I prefer the higher capacity anyway, however sometimes it is easier to conceal with the shorter mag.
Other perplexing issues: why is the safety minuscule and impossible to operate? And why even put a safety on it if you’re going to give it a six-and-a-half pound trigger? I have totally abandoned any hope of ever using the safety on this gun because I can’t actuate the darned thing without squinting and struggling. I am also seriously considering doing a trigger job on it to lighten the pull. While I love the crispness and reset, I find the weight to be a bit of nuisance. I very much like the Apex Tactical five-and-a-half pound trigger for M&Ps, so I think that might be next on my to-do list.
Final verdict—if you want to carry, but would prefer to not lug around a full-size firearm, choose the M&P Shield. The price is right, so you will definitely feel like you got a bargain when you realize how awesome it is. Also, it is really manageable to operate and take down, which means it’s a good gun to learn the basics with. You won’t find a lot of confusing controls or extraneous features, and taking it apart to clean it is almost as easy as taking apart a Glock. Unlike a Glock, however you will actually want to take your Shield to the range and shoot it.
In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, Brandon over at Monderno did experience a problem with his Shield that rendered it unusable and required a trip back to Smith and Wesson for repair. Read more on that here.