For twenty years now I’ve looked for an arthritis sufferer-friendly pistol for my mom. Without the strength to rack a slide, she can’t operate semi-autos. Add to that her inability to pull a double-action revolver’s trigger — or even cock a revolver without significant difficulty — and her options are pretty limited.

What’s more, she’s not alone when it comes to the less-abled who want a handgun for self-defense. As a long-time instructor, I’ve seen plenty of folks with hand strength issues.

When the folks at one of my local gun stores asked me about the new Smith & Wesson M&P380 SHIELD EZ, I knew only what I’d read in Jeremy’s review. He had test-driven one and given it a rare five-star rating. I spent a lot of time with Jeremy at last year’s NRA Convention and he knows his stuff and writes what he finds – good or bad.

Right away, it had my attention. It felt solidly built, but was light with a smallish grip. I didn’t care for the ambidextrous external safety, but that’s just one of my personal quirks. I’m told it’s also available in a non-external safety version.

S&W also equipped it with a big grip safety that looks intimidating, but I didn’t even notice it when I grabbed the gun.

The grip felt quite comfortable, albeit a tad on the small side for my average-size manpaws. They described it as a “grandma gun” and I could see it filling that role, especially when I felt how easily the slide manipulated.

To make racking the slide easier, the gun has a very mild-mannered recoil spring, and Smith thoughtfully cut the slide to provide LOTS of purchase for a sure grip. And that’s not even counting the beveled cuts at the rear of the slide.

After getting a feel for how easy the gun manipulated, I checked it once more to be sure it was unloaded and then dry-fired it.

“Wow! Nice trigger,” I thought to myself.

Even before I handed it back, I thought to myself, “This is a gun for mom.”

I wanted to put it through its paces to see if it shot as well as it felt. So they hooked me up with their loaner gun. How kind of them, right? The nice people at CI Shooting Sports have a whole wall full of rifles and support-braced pistols that look a lot like short-barrelled rifles, along with a case full of cool handguns for folks to rent. Or try before they buy – or simply just dabble in some really cool new guns with friends.

They might as well as have said, “Here, just take a look at this 4-week-old German Shepherd puppy! All you have to do is just look, okay?” Yeah, I went, looked and Fritz followed me home at eight weeks as a 50th birthday present.  When it comes to new guns though, my lovely bride keeps me on an even shorter leash than the dog.

Here’s how Smith & Wesson describes their new pistol:

Built for personal protection and every-day carry, the M&P380 Shield EZ is chambered in 380 Auto and is designed to be easy to use, featuring an easy-to-rack slide , easy-to-load magazine, and easy-to-clean design. Built for personal and home protection, the innovative M&P380 Shield EZ pistol is the latest addition to the M&P M2.0 family and provides an easy-to-use protection option for both first-time shooters and experienced handgunners alike.

No over-the-top boasts. The new pistol lives up to every word of S&W’s promo. Here’s what I found when I shot it.

Right out of the gate, I liked its light weight. Smith lists it at 18.5 ounces, which would make it fairly unobtrusive for everyday carry. It’s well-balanced and the big (giant?), three-dot, all-white sights are easy to see, even in the modest light on the indoor range using my 50-year-old eyeballs.

Loading the single-stack eight-round magazines came very easy, thanks to the rimfire-style knobs on the sides of the magazine. They make loading a snap. They let you drop loaded rounds into the mag without fighting the spring tension. It’s akin to loading a Ruger .22 target pistol or a Walther P22 magazine.

In other words, the magazines are very novice-shooter friendly. And very friendly for arthritic fingers or those with disabilities.

Yeah, they could have made this gun hold a lot more ammo, but the designers went for ease of use, not maximum lead-throwing capacity.

I ran the Dot Torture drill at five yards. My interest in handgunning involves defensive gun uses and five yards easily encompasses the overwhelming majority of civilian DGUs. Shooting that drill gives me an apples-to-apples opportunity to test a gun for reliability, ease of use, and general handling and compare the results against how I do with my everyday carry GLOCK.

In other words, I fired it from strong- and support-hand only grips, traditional isosceles, against multiple targets and bringing it to bear and firing from low ready.

How did it do?

For my first time shooting the pistol, out of 50 rounds, I dropped five rounds from perfect (targets are two-inch circles).  Of late, that’s about normal or maybe one more miss than usual. Yeah, I need a lot more practice. But I won’t blame the M&P EZ for those misses. Those were all me.

Despite the light weight, felt recoil was quite mild with factory full-metal jacket ammunition. I snuck in a few magazines of Hornady Critical Defense JHP and they shot flawlessly and without an appreciable difference in muzzle blast or recoil.

In another string against a little alien target at five yards (above), it made a nice group when firing eight rounds at one round per second (range rules).

I left my fish scale at home, but I’d estimate the trigger broke at about four pounds. The S&W trigger seemed to shoot just a bit heavier (and arguably smoother) than the GLOCK 3.5-pound target trigger I traditionally shoot.

In short:  my specimen came with a very impressive factory trigger. The New York City PD would never allow it, but unlike NYC, we don’t have idiot politicians here telling us we need 32-pound triggers in our handguns to prevent negligent discharges.

The M&P380 SHIELD EZ shot consistently to the left about an inch or so at five yards. I attributed that to the gun.  (And when I shot a second string on a SIG, that gun hit dead-on for me). The rear sights on the are windage (drift) adjustable, but even without tweaking the rear sight, the little gun shot well within minute-of-bad guy.

For those worried about the M&P380 SHIELD EZ’s ability to make hits further down range, I had no problems making center-of-mass hits on a life-sized bad guy at 15 yards. After another reload, and taking my time in aiming and trigger control, the gun continued to impress.

While bearing down for maximum accuracy, I drilled eight good headshots out of eight rounds fired, also at 15 yards. I consider myself about average in shooting ability, so that means you can probably make those same shots with this gun, too  Some serious shooters could probably drill an eyeball at that range with it, but that’s not me.

In a nutshell, in semi-competent hands, this little M&P EZ piece can keep up with its full-sized brethren. For a grandma gun, that says a lot.

The M&P380 SHIELD EZ ships with a pair of eight-round mags and will fire without one in the gun.

Speaking of magazines, it requires a decent strike against the baseplate to seat the mag on a closed slide. If that’s a problem, it can be easily overcome by less-abled users. Simply hold the gun in a firing grip and pressing the base-plate of fully-loaded magazine against a hard surface, and you’ll feel and hear it click into place.

Yes, the .380 only hits with a little over half the energy as a 9mm round. At the same time, Hornady’s modern XTP hollowpoints (and Fiocchi Extrema XTPs where you can find them) deliver some of the best performance in the .380 caliber of defensive ammo. The XTPs perform quite well against soft tissue and pretty consistently deliver 12 inches of penetration in ballistic media, suggesting adequate penetration against two-legged predators. At the same time, they seldom grossly over-penetrate like some .380 Auto self-defense loads – and full metal jacket rounds.

(Tip: Freedom Munitions has XTP .380s, and if you mention TTAG, you save 5%.)

Of course, a good hit with a .380 beats a miss with a .45. For my mom, that .380 will perform far better than the rimfire pistol currently in her nightstand. And any ballistic solution darn sure beats most any non-ballistic or empty-handed options for a seasoned citizen.

The EZ field strips into four pieces relatively easily and intuitively for the firearms-savvy. It goes back together just as easily (I didn’t need to consult any YouTube videos or the manual).

Honestly though, for a lot of users, they’ll likely buy this gun, load it and put in a nightstand somewhere in case the worst happens. And there it shall remain. While that’s suboptimal on several fronts, that’s reality for a lot of folks.

Even so, if grandma picks it up and does her part, the EZ will go bang and deliver hits on target if the worst happens.

Specifications: Smith & Wesson M&P EZ .380 Auto

Caliber: .380 ACP
Capacity: 8+1 rounds
Action: internal hammer fired, single action
Overall Length: 6.7 inches
Barrel Length: 3.675 inches
Height: 4.98 inches
Width: 1.15 inches (1.43 at widest point across the safeties)
Weight: 18.5 ounces
Sights: white 3-dot sights, rear adjustable for windage
Materials: polymer frame, stainless steel slide and barrel with Armornite Finish
External Safeties: grip safety, tactile loaded chamber indicator, optional ambidextrous thumb safety
MSRP: $399

Ratings (out of five stars):

Reliability * * * * *
Perfect function, even while dirty.

Accuracy * * * *
The EZ is an accurate shooter that’s easy to shoot. One star off because my specimen shot a little to the left, but you (or your gun shop) can fix that.

Ease of Use * * * * *
The M&P380 Shield EZ makes shooting a pistol pleasant and easy, especially for those with hand strength issues. I could carp about the full mag seating against the closed slide, but that’s just nit-picking.

Trigger * * * * 1/2
The factory trigger on this pistol is amazing – almost comparable to GLOCK’s target trigger for those familiar with that common tweak. No, it’s not a tuned 1911, but this isn’t a Les Baer gun.

Value * * * * *
An semi-auto from a major manufacturer that will work reliably and effectively as a self-defense piece for those without a lot of grip strength and/or small hands? That’s priceless right there. At under $400, that’s very good value.

Overall * * * * *
Smith & Wesson has hit a home run for grandparents everywhere. And those suffering from disabilities caused by injury or illness (such as arthritis or MS). In a world of bold sales claims, the M&P380 SHIELD EZ delivers solid hits with mild recoil. Its ease of use for the less-abled cinches the deal. Bigtime.

Fair disclosure:  In recent days, I’ve read that some hot ammo in the S&W EZ can cause the external safety to actuate on its own when the gun is fired. Smith is offering a no-cost upgrade for guns made before April 4, 2018.  For more on this, visit this link. I shot this gun in late March so it was clearly one of the guns affected. I experienced no malfunctions or spontaneous safety activations with the zippy XTP’s.

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