Gun Review: Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ

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The M&P 9 Shield EZ feels like a .380 Auto, performs like a 9mm.

How The M&P 9 Shield EZ Sets Shooters Up For Success

  • A slightly heavier slide and lighter springs are used to make manipulation easier.
  • Magazine release is reversible, making the pistol lefty and righty friendly.
  • Hi-Viz LiteWave H3 sights make for quick target access in daylight and low-light conditions.
  • A consistent and smooth trigger, plus a short reset, aids in the pistol's accuracy and speed.

In 2018, Smith & Wesson released the Shield M&P EZ in .380 ACP to specifically address complaints that some shooters had problems racking the slide or manipulating a defensive semi-automatic handgun. Most manufacturers would’ve called it a day and raked in the money for a concealed-carry piece that checks all the boxes.

Shield EZ 3

However, Smith & Wesson has never been known to rest on its laurels.

They had the right dimensions, safety features and mode of operation. They addressed complaints from shooters who had special needs regarding shooting, manipulation and maintenance. Yet, the caliber was an issue. Most firearms instructors recommend .380 ACP as the bare minimum caliber for self-defense. Yet, those same professionals will say they carry a 9mm.

Smith & Wesson followed up with an M&P Shield EZ in 9mm in 2019, and the end result was so popular that we now have a Performance Center offering of this pistol, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

During the past few months, there’s been a surge of new shooters and first-time firearm buyers joining the ranks of gun owners. Whether they’ve never shot a firearm before or haven’t in some time, they’re concerned primarily with personal defense and concealed carry. This means it can be very hard to find a handgun on the shelves of sporting goods retailers—particularly if you have special needs as a shooter.

In this instance, it might be smaller-framed people or folks suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis. Remember, these aren’t the people who’ve been accustomed to shooting for decades, and unfortunately with the way things are going in some areas, they won’t have the time to get up to speed like most shooters can take for granted.

The Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ lets these people have an immediate tool for concealed carry and home defense, and a lot of these features will make it a winner for any shooter—regardless of skill level or ability.

Slide and Frame

Like all of the Shield pistols, the Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ has a polymer frame, and this one sports a three-slot rail so the shooter can add a tactical flashlight, laser or a combination of both. There are no interchangeable backstraps as you might find on other M&P-type pistols.

The slide is made from stainless steel and coated in black Armornite. Smith’s wavy, cocking serrations are on the rear and a single row of snake skin-type serrations are located in front. The serrations up front give some shooters an area to press check the slide … plus, they simply offer a nice, custom look.

We like the holsters of LAG Tactical, they truly fit the firearm like a glove and offer superb retention.
We like the holsters of LAG Tactical, they truly fit the firearm like a glove and offer superb retention.

We found the slide to be slightly heavier than one on an M&P Shield, but that’s to be expected. Ease of manipulation is the name of the game with this one, and in order to make it easier to rack the slide, a lighter recoil spring was used. That dictates more weight to slow the slide down.

In spite or that, three horizontal lightning cuts are made on either side to show off the barrel for a nice custom touch.

A loaded chamber indicator is present on the slide; this should help shooters eliminate press-checking by letting the shooter know instantly and perhaps in the dark if their pistol is loaded.

Disassembly is achieved by means of a takedown lever on the middle part of the frame above the trigger. The shooter locks the slide to the rear, rotates the lever to the 6 o’clock position and pushes the slide off the frame. The recoil spring and guide rod assembly lift out, and the pistol is ready to clean.

Lastly, the magazine release is reversible for left or right-handed shooters and ejects the magazine purposefully every time.

Sights

The Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ ships with a set of Hi-Viz LiteWave H3 sights that provide fast sight acquisition and a bright sight picture, day or night. Hi-Viz combines Tritium with their patented Litepipe fiber-optic tubes, allowing for a perfect sight picture during the day and in low-light conditions.

When shooting in the daytime, the Litepipes use the power of the sun for illumination. In a low-light scenario, the tritium picks up. In full darkness, you might see the Tritium but not necessarily your target. Turn on your weapon-mounted light or your handheld light, and the Litepipes will take over again.

The rear sight and the front sight, for that matter, can be drifted for windage adjustments if needed. There’s no provision for mounting a red-dot optic of any kind.

Barrel

The barrel on the Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ is slightly extended past the front of the slide and contains a single angled port. This is intended to reduce muzzle flip, and it works extremely well in this role.

The S&W M&P Shield 9mm EZ PC disassembles quickly and easily for both novice shooters and those who might have problems with manual dexterity.
The S&W M&P Shield 9mm EZ PC disassembles quickly and easily for both novice shooters and those who might have problems with manual dexterity.

Ignore the chair-borne rangers who tell you that the flash will blind you, destroy your night vision and set your clothes on fire. This is a matter of simple physics and it allows for a faster follow-up shot.

Trigger

When they first hit the market, I loathed the factory trigger on the Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. They could be fixed with an Apex trigger and sear, but we wanted a proper trigger from the factory. Thankfully, Smith & Wesson caught up with customer demands and gave the Shield EZ PC an excellent one.

It probably helps that this is a hammer-fired pistol and not one that relies on a striker assembly. As anyone who shoots striker-fired pistols at this price point can attest, there are numerous internal safeties and moving parts under tension that a shooter must overcome. An internal hammer can allow for a smoother trigger squeeze because there are generally fewer moving parts.

Anodized to match the barrel and grip safety, this trigger breaks at 4.5 pounds and has an extremely short reset. There’s a slight take-up followed by a nice, clean break. The flat face will please a lot of shooters, and we loved the short reset.

Grip Safety

Perhaps the most significant external change between the original Shield and the Shield EZ was the introduction of a manual grip safety.


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The grip safety runs almost the entire length of the backstrap and, in this case, matches the stainless steel accents on the pistol. The only fault we found with it was the top edges of it were particularly sharp. A shooter who prefers a high handhold on a pistol, like yours truly, will find discomfort with it.

The PC M&P 9 EZ is large enough to easily control, yet small enough to easily and comfortably conceal.
The PC M&P 9 EZ is large enough to easily control, yet small enough to easily and comfortably conceal.

There are a few remedies here, such as stoning the edges or getting a replacement grip safety from Smith & Wesson. According to my cohorts who have experience with this model, our test pistol isn’t an isolated incident either. However, this is touted as a Performance Center pistol from Smith, and it never should have left the factory this way.

Other Safeties

This Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ has an ambidextrous frame-mounted safety installed by the Performance Center. S&W also offers a model without. External safeties have become anathema to many shooters and trainers because of the prevalence of striker-fired pistols in the market.

Sometimes they miss the point of view of a new shooter who might be concerned about the lack of an external safety. For some new people, this may be compared to a set of training wheels on a bicycle. They need it as a confidence booster until they feel ready to go without one.
There are two good things about Smith & Wesson M&P safeties: They don’t prevent movement of the slide, meaning the shooter can load and chamber a round with the safety engaged. Secondly, they can be removed by an M&P armorer at a later date with little to no fuss.

Keep in mind that this is a hammer-fired pistol and not one that’s striker-fired. So that safety lever makes a lot more sense.

Magazine and Accessories

The magazine holds eight rounds and, like most Smith & Wesson magazines, it’s a functional work of art. We particularly liked the tabs on the sides for ease of loading. While initially going over the pistol as a whole, we noticed nearly every feature made the pistol easier to manipulate. Magazine loading, however, can be particularly difficult for the intended market for this pistol, and Smith & Wesson addressed this in a wise fashion.

Smith & Wesson may have been the first manufacturer to make use of the grip safety feature over 125 years ago to allow safe carry of a loaded revolver in a pocket or purse.
Smith & Wesson may have been the first manufacturer to make use of the grip safety feature over 125 years ago to allow safe carry of a loaded revolver in a pocket or purse.

Smith & Wesson included a Performance Center-branded cleaning kit with this model, containing a collapsible cleaning rod with rotating T-handle, nylon cleaning brush, bronze bore brushes, an assortment of nylon jags and tips and, of course, cotton patches. This is a great cleaning kit, especially for an entry-level shooter.

A mandatory cable lock is included for shooters who may wish to store their firearm unloaded and locked up.

At the Range

To test, we burned up six boxes of Federal 115-grain FMJs. We fired 300 rounds with no issues. At 50 feet, our best group was eight shots in 2.75 inches. This is well within the standard for any quality concealed carry handgun. A match-grade handgun will definitely perform better, but that’s not what the Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ pretends to be.

Recoil was minimal, and the pistol pointed well. The port keeping the muzzle from rising, coupled with the extremely short reset, made for a very fast and capable sidearm with regard to follow-up shots.

We would compare shooting this pistol closer to the experience of firing a 1911 pistol as opposed to a typical polymer-framed handgun.

Concealed Carry

The greatest pistol in the world can be a failure if there are no viable holsters on the market. We reached out to LAG Tactical in Reno, Nevada, for an OWB or AIWB holster for the Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ, and they supplied us with one of each.

We found that the pistol carried well in AIWB, and LAG’s Liberator holster helped greatly in that regard. The Liberator is one of the best-designed CCW holsters we’ve come across, and we use it whenever we can.

However, we were keeping in mind that this was a pistol designed for new shooters who may not be comfortable with that mode of carry and gave an equal amount of time to the more traditional carry method. DeSantis also offers several holster designs for this handgun in IWB and OWB configurations, as do a variety of other manufacturers.

Final Thoughts

All in all, this was a fine pistol that not only looked good but was fun to shoot.

Hopefully, Smith & Wesson includes a provision for the mounting of a red-dot optic on a future iteration of this pistol. These types of sights are constantly improving with regard to size, visibility and battery life.

The only part of this pistol that we didn’t like was the grip safety. It’s not that they’re a bad feature or unwarranted, but the top part of the safety has sharp edges that could’ve been cleaned up at the Performance Center. Many new shooters or folks relying on this pistol because they may have problems with hand strength may not have the knowledge, tools or ability to remedy this on their own.

Aside from that, the accuracy, ease of manipulation and inherent safety features make the S&W Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ a great personal defense gun. It’s affordable for a Performance Center pistol and definitely checks all our boxes for a recommendation with regard to a concealed-carry handgun.

That includes the caliber.

A 9mm with low recoil that was easy to fire, manipulate and disassemble for a novice shooter was a true unicorn a few years ago. Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center took these challenges head on and made it easy-peasy with the EZ PC.

PC M&P 9 Shield EZ Specs
Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 8+1
Barrel Length: 3.8 inches
Overall Length: 7 inches
Front Sight: Hi-Viz Litewave H3 Tritium/Litepipe
Rear Sight: Hi-Viz Litewave H3 Tritium/Litepipe
Action: Internal Hammer Fired
Grip: Polymer
Weight: 23.2 ounces
Barrel Material: Stainless steel
Slide Material: Stainless steel
Frame Material: Polymer
MSRP: $588

For more information on the Performance Center M&P 9 Shield EZ, please visit smith-wesson.com.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2020 Everyday Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Smith & Wesson Info:

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