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Why Smith & Wesson’s Equalizer is not only for 1911 enthusiasts

I’m thoroughly impressed with how this gun handles, the features it has and the value it offers

By Kevin McPherson

Smith & Wesson has been building and improving micro-compact polymer framed semiautos since its Shield debuted in 2012. The Shield was one of the first striker fired 9mm pistols in a size that was previously “.380 only” territory. It was upgraded to the Shield 2.0 in 2017. In 2018, S&W introduced the Shield EZ .380, purpose-built to be easier to manipulate than the Shield and similar guns. Racking the slide was easier, and so was loading magazines and field stripping. The EZ featured an internal hammer and a single action trigger. S&W bumped the caliber up to 9mm with the EZ9 in 2019. In March 2021, the Shield Plus arrived, increasing magazine capacity from single to double digits.

The Shield Plus and the EZ co-existed, appealing to slightly different markets. The Shield Plus was soon available in optics-ready versions and with longer barrels from the Performance Center. Curiously, the Shield was never offered with a Picatinny rail on the frame – the EZ has always had one. The EZ had lots of Performance Center options and sight choices but wasn’t optics-ready. The EZ’s optional ambidextrous thumb safety was like the larger M&P series pistols. The Shield’s thumb safety was (and is) vexingly small and only useful for right-handed shooters.

Equalizer blends best features of its parent pistols

S&W released the Equalizer in November 2022, thoughtfully blending the best features of its parent pistols. It maintains the “EZ technology” features of the EZ, along with its’ grip safety and Picatinny rail. S&W designed it to accept the “stack and a half” magazines of the Shield Plus. The slide comes with S&W’s new optic cut pattern and has wide vertical serrations front and rear. The three dot sights are drift adjustable for windage. The 3.675” barrel and other major metal parts are Armornite-finished stainless steel. The grip texture is tackier than the original Shield, but not as harsh as the 2.0 version. The Equalizer is offered with or without a thumb safety.


The Equalizer pictured with its paternal great grandfather, the original Shield.

Photo/Kevin McPherson


The Equalizer’s excellent grip and thumb safeties. Both are great designs that add layers of Murphy insurance.

Photo/Kevin McPherson

I reached out to S&W’s National LE Sales Manager, Dave Bowler, who put me in touch with Dave O’Connor and Alexa Neff from S&W’s media team. They graciously sent an Equalizer to trial free of charge. I requested one with the thumb safety, as a long-time 1911 user it felt familiar. Unlike a 1911, the slide can be run with the thumb safety engaged. This allows an extra margin of safety when loading, unloading and press-checking the Equalizer. The thumb safety paddles are properly placed and shaped and have the right amount of tension coming off and going on. The bottom hinge design of the grip safety is easier to activate than most 1911s when resting the thumb atop the thumb safety. The added peace of mind these features provide may be worth the extra training time required to become proficient with them, particularly so on a gun kept close to the body, like with AIWB carry. Every draw and re-holster has potentially catastrophic consequences; thumb and grip safeties are two more “Murphy proofing” measures.

The gun ships with three magazines; a flush fitting 10 rounder and extended magazines holding 13 and 15 rounds. Higher capacity magazines for small autos (not just S&Ws) have a reputation for being difficult to fully load. I was able to load all magazines to capacity using just my fingers with premium ammunition. All would positively lock in the magwell, even with the slide forward. Newly manufactured budget FMJ rounds came up one short in the two larger magazines. It seemed to be a “stacking tolerances” issue with case specs, not a magazine problem with the gun.


The thumb and grip safeties on the Equalizer make it feel right at home to those who favor a 1911. It can also be had without thumb safeties.

Photo/Kevin McPherson

It is good of S&W to include one of each size AND a Maglula Uplula magazine speedloader. The 10-round magazine gives the smallest profile for concealed carry. Swapping for the 15 rounder and installing a small weapon-mounted light gives the home defense capability of a full-size gun.


S&W does the consumer a solid by packing a 10, 13, and 15 round magazine AND a magloader with every Equalizer.

Photo/Kevin McPherson

Testing the Equalizer

I put 175 rounds through the Equalizer using the iron sights. It initially shot a little bit left; the rear sight had enough range of adjustment to center it. The single action trigger was smooth and uncluttered by a trigger safety. It had a bit of pre-ignition travel but was a notable improvement over most striker-fired guns. My hands are big and the heel of my palm sometimes blocked the bigger mags from dropping freely, but the 10-round mag always fell cleanly. With the larger magazines installed, you forget it’s a micro-compact. It shot well at the distances fired: 5-25 yards. It felt like the gun had more potential accuracy than I could leverage with the sights and my old eyes. As promised, it was easy to field strip and clean.


The author shot the pistol better after installing an optic. Irons sights on the left, optic at right; standing from 15 yards. Federal AE 147 TMJ.

Photo/Kevin McPherson

A Crimson Trace CTS 1550 sight fit the optics cut, but the CT’s included mounting screws didn’t. Suitable screws were found from the many supplied with an M&P CORE pistol. The Equalizer accommodates compact optics with the Shield RMSc footprint (also the Holosun K series). The iron sights were just visible in the bottom of the Crimson Trace’s screen for BUIS purposes. The optic zeroed painlessly with 124 grain Gold Dot indoors. The red dot made hitting in the mediocre lighting of the indoor range significantly easier and faster. The 1550’s 3 MOA dot was smaller than I’m used to but came into view quickly and consistently when presenting the pistol. The Equalizer’s grip angle certainly plays into finding the dot – it points very naturally. Groups at longer ranges outdoors also shrunk, the optic providing a solution to the aging eyes issue.


Sixteen rounds in the gun and a 500-lumen white light mounted allows the Equalizer to punch above its weight class.

Photo/Kevin McPherson

The Equalizer has been a pleasure to shoot, 100% reliable through 375 rounds so far - a variety of JHP and FMJ projectiles weighing from 115 to 147 grains. I’m thoroughly impressed with how this gun handles and the features it has. It offers excellent value at an MSRP of $599.00. Give the Equalizer a look, it’s not just for old 1911 enthusiasts.

With its 3.675” barrel and a 15-round magazine, the Equalizer doesn’t yield much capability to bigger guns like the M&P Compact.

About the author

Kevin McPherson served as a police officer in New Mexico from 1988-2011, retiring as a sergeant with the New Mexico State Police. During his tenure he worked patrol, narcotics enforcement and as the lead firearms instructor/armorer in the NMSP Training Bureau for 13 years. He was a member of the NMSP Tactical Team for 10 years. He has been a firearms instructor since 1994 and continues to teach and write about firearms. He is now the director of security at a K-12 Christian School.

This article, originally published on May 2, 2023, has been updated.