The Shield’s black polymer frame is of the same pattern, albeit smaller, as the other M&P models. With a grip-angle of 18 degrees past perpendicular to the bore axis, the stock’s front- and backstraps have S&W’s Palmswell grip stippling. While similar in appearance and feel to those of the larger guns, the stocks do not follow suit in that they are not interchangeable. The M&P’s Palmswell grip system incorporates three sizes of backstrap in order to provide users with the best fit possible. This system would not have been feasible within the sub-1-inch width of the Shield. Instead, the S&W engineers opted for a fixed, medium-size grip—the size that, according to their research, was already being utilized by 90 percent of M&P customers.
A tip of the hat to a heritage of successful design is only part of the Shield’s story. The pistol also represents innovation, improvement and an ability to adapt to trending demands. In recent years, small guns chambered in .380 ACP have been very popular; and subcompacts with capacious magazines for 9 mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP have become a veritable staple. A dialogue emerged, or perhaps always existed, pitting concealability and ease-of-carry against power and capacity, especially in the context of a back-up or personal-protection firearm. While the correct answer lies in individual preference and ability, compromise is also a sensible solution. The Shield offers the svelte size and weight—only 19 ounces, unloaded—preferred by the carry-conscious while still packing serious punch—seven or eight and six or seven rounds of 9 mm Luger or .40 S&W, respectively. Two magazines—one flush-fitting, the other with plus-one capacity and an extended grip—ship with the Shield and, by utilizing a single, though semi-staggered column design, maximize ammunition capacity within the confines of the pistol’s minimalist frame.
The Shield features a full complement of controls on the left side of its Zytel frame, and while there is nothing unusual about those features, it is surprising to find a configuration usually reserved for full-size handguns on a gun the size of the comparatively diminutive Shield. Farthest forward, located just above the trigger, is a take-down lever, which, when the slide is locked rearward, can be rotated down in a clockwise manner for disassembly. The manual slide-lock is behind and above the trigger, and mates with a notch cut into the base of the slide near the mid-length mark. It is important to note that when the slide is cycled on an empty magazine, the slide-lock will automatically engage.
A thumb safety is just below the slide’s serrations, and above the frame’s backstrap texturing. Color coding is not used to denote safe or fire, rather the down-position allows the gun to fire while the up-position blocks the trigger. Shallow insets in the molded frame house the aforementioned controls, and narrow grooves provide purchase when accessing the controls. Finally, the magazine release button is behind and below the trigger guard and is textured—in the same pattern as the stock—rather than grooved.