Let's face it, there is a large and increasing number of people who carry handguns for self defense. Within this group there is certainly another group, or subsect, who have the desire and/or necessity to carry their defensive gun in a concealed manner. Should you find yourself in this group, you may realize that there are limitations that dictate the weapon you choose to carry. These factors can be physical, such as the size of the gun's frame as well as your own, as well as how you dress, either by choice or by employer policy.
I know lot's of people who will argue that a smaller-framed gun is "the best" tool for this job as it's easily concealable. The problem arises when you need to employ your tiny, DAO .32AUTO that has no measurable grip area to it and makes you feel as though you're trying to cradle an egg in your hands on a rollercoaster. This is what brings me to the main topic of this article, the Smith & Wesson Shield.
Not much over a year ago Smith & Wesson released their answer to this dilema; a gun that was small enough to conceal nearly anywhere, yet allowed people will almost all hand sizes the ability to control the weapon and get the hits they need...that gun is the Shield. Available in 9mm Para and .40 S&W, with decent magazine capacity for either caliber. The magazine is not a true double stack, but is slightly wider than a single stack, so we can rest to say it's a "stack and a half". The Shield is sold with one standard mag and one extended. The standard capacity mags will hold 7 rounds, in the 9mm model, and 6 in .40. The extended magazines will add one round to the total carry capacity, as well as lengthen the grip by about 3/4".
Moving up the frame you'll find the same trigger as it's larger M&P brothers, yet the Shield has a smoother, crisper trigger feel which is, in my opinion, a very nice improvement. The trigger pull comes in around 6.5lbs which, when paired with the definitive reset point, allows quick, accurate shot placement. All Shield models also have a manipulable thumb safety on the left side of the frame. I found during testing that this safety can be difficult to use, espescially when pressure is applied to shooting, as it's recessed into the frame, very similar to the Bodygaurd from Smith & Wesson. The rest of the Shield remains to same as the full size M&P models - adequately-sized three dot sights (that can be replaced with night sights), a loaded chamber indicator (in the barrel hood), ergonomic grip angle and a rear palm swell that provides good traction, and a simple disassmbly procedure.
Personally, I'd say the Smith & Wesson Shield is at the top of it's class. It is a far better price performer than other options such as the Sig 938 and Springfield XDs, yet well worth the dollar difference over choices like the Ruger LC9 and Kimber Solo based on it's features alone. However, it is arguably more important for a self defense gun to work 110% of the time more so than having lot's of nice features. I can honestly say that I have not seen or had a Shield pass through my hands that failed in any way, unless it was a shooter-induced issue. A few years ago my weapon of choice, in the handgun category, was a full sized M&P .40. It is an understatement to say that I didn't take care of that gun...I was mean to it. I got the gun dirty and left it that way, dropped it, threw the magazines, and managed to break the front sight off somewhere in this "character building" process. It never quit. The vast majority of Shields that I have used for testing and review have been demo guns or owned by other people, all who requested "push it to it's fail point if you can, but don't bring it back in pieces, please". That being said, I have not punished the Shield quite as thoroughly as I would to a gun that I own, but I certainly have given them a good trip to wood shed, if you will, and seen nothing but reliability in return. The added bonus to buying a Shield over some of it's competitors is that the weapon is backed for it's lifetime by Smith & Wesson, should anything ever happen to it.
Coming full circle, however you find yourself in the group of concealed carriers - law enforcement, executive protection, bodyguard, concerned citizen, etc - consider the Smith & Wesson Shield heavily. When a lightweight, slim, dependable weapon is what the situation dictates, the M&P Shield won't make any sacrifices.
The Shield truly is 'low profile protection'.
...we never quit!