Smith & Wesson M&P 12 Thrusts S&W Into Self-Defense Shotgun Market By: Frank Melloni


During most of 2020 and 2021, homeowners flocked to gun stores seeking a means to protect their domicile. Nearly exclusively, these men and women were offered shotguns, particularly if they didn’t have any previous experience with firearms. Shotguns shine in this scenario, as they are moderately simple to operate, offer greater hit rates (when loaded with multiple projectile ammo), and in the right configuration, are extraordinarily maneuverable inside tight spaces. Such is the case with the Smith & Wesson M&P 12.

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The Smith & Wesson M&P 12

Smith & Wesson is no stranger to self-defense, and the realm of long guns isn’t completely foreign to the Massachusetts-based manufacturer either. Shotguns, however, have always been missing from its catalog, leaving out a critical leg of the self-defense triangle.

All of that would soon change with the M&P 12. The M&P 12 is an enhanced-capacity, 12-gauge pump-action shotgun with a host of features that serve either dexterity.

Love At First Sight

My first encounter with this 15-round shotgun was at the 2021 Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous, where we met up in Victor, Idaho, for three days of lead-slinging and smack talkin’.

Two magazine tubes make the Smith & Wesson M&P 12 a double threat, allowing you to send either slugs or shot as the situation warrants.

My initial impression was positive enough that I wanted to get one back home to take a better look. For those of you that know where I live, you are likely asking yourself, “Can he have 15 rounds of freedom in New York?” and the answer is simply “yes.”

As the M&P 12 is a pump-action, it skirts many “assault weapon” bans. And the fact that the capacity is split up between two magazines helps many folks who have to deal with those restrictions too. Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer and that by the time this piece hits newsstands, things could change. In other words, check local laws before you purchase.

The M&P 12 Ergonomics and Action

When the gun arrived, I was quickly reminded of its ergonomics, which were reminiscent of the M&P line of pistols. I say this because Smith’s new shotgun uses a nearly identical pistol grip, complete with interchangeable backstraps. Fitting a shotgun to your hand isn’t nearly as big a deal as fitting a pistol. But gathering as much recoil control as possible is always a great idea.

After the status check, I took a little more time to look at the action itself. While I had a chance in Idaho to work with the load assists, it wasn’t until I had the gun in New York that I understood their entire involvement with ammunition handling.

The M&P 12 is equipped with one of these load assists for each magazine tube and is used to help get each shell past the rim as you fill up. In essence, it’s depressing the shell latch so that you don’t have to power through its spring tension manually. More on this later.

As the forend is retracted, it swings the elevator down, putting it into a position to accept a shell from either tube. Toward the end of the stroke, you will hit a false wall. You need to push through it to facilitate the release of a shell.

What you are feeling is the action hitting the plunger just forward of the load assists. That last touch of pressure is what rolls the shell latch away, plopping a round into the elevator. The position of the prominent magazine selector dictates which tube the round will be released from.

The forward stroke of the action is essentially the same as any other shotgun. However, it’s exceptionally smooth, serving a testament to the overall quality of the build.

A Suite of Features

The M&P 12 hosts a suite of features, most being designed for both right-handed and left-handed deployment. Chief of these is the central bottom ejection that allows a cheek weld on either side of the stock.

The bullpup uses a nearly identical pistol grip, complete with interchangeable backstraps.

An AR-style safety can be found exactly where you’d expect and can be actuated from either side of the receiver. Just forward of the trigger guard you will find the action release. This can be slid down with either trigger finger with very little pressure.

I liked this feature. Specifically because it eliminates any searching for this possibly critical component. Not to mention, it simultaneously forces trigger finger discipline during its use.

QD sling sockets can be found on either side of the buttstock to serve a single-point setup. Likewise, a two-point sling can be installed by mounting an adapter on either side of the barrel via the M-Lok slots found at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions.

Finishing Touches

The gun comes “optics-ready” with an elongated Picatinny rail. So, I decided to install an EOTech XPS holographic sight to give me my fastest target acquisition and follow-up shots.

I slapped it on about two-thirds of the way forward. While I don’t know if that’s “proper” placement, it made the hologram very instinctual to find. So, I figured, why the heck not? That’s the beauty in EOTech’s design, they’re not very dependent on mounting position and have nearly unlimited eye relief.

My last step before heading to the range was the installation of a Magpul MS4 sling. Specifically since it can easily be configured for single-point use to aid in loading and unloading. Because Smith’s new shotgun is built to be loaded with the muzzle pointed down, this would let me stuff 15 rounds into it without any need for a bench to rest on.

Aside from the sling, I brought out a box of Winchester’s newest defense Load—Defender Close Range. Likewise, I brought a few boxes of Federal’s Reduced Hazard Training slugs, which feature a 325-grain frangible slug. My goal was to test the gun on both paper and steel. First, inside of 15 yards for accuracy, then inside of 10 for function and maneuverability.

Target Time

My day started with the aforementioned accuracy testing from a sturdy shooting bench. To my delight, the EOTech was just about zeroed, so I didn’t fuss with it too much. Which worked for me as I’d rather spend that time sending rounds downrange.

The M&P 12 digested 50 of the federal slugs (in just a hair over three loadings) without any issue and put them damn near in the same hole. Our average of five five-shot groups measured 3.27 inches, with our best group coming in at 2.23 inches.

The Smith & Wesson M&P 12 ran Federal’s Reduced Hazard Training slugs very accurately.

After witnessing the accuracy, I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t tempting to take this thing into the woods during Special Firearms season. Especially since a bullpup design is great for tight spaces, like a blind.

Moving on to the Winchester Defender ammunition, we found patterns centered up on a standard IPSC target. It essentially coated the A-zone with its #2 copper-plated projectiles. I was a big fan of how the pattern was usable but not so wide there was a serious concern about “over-patterning.”

The Smith & Wesson M&P 12 provided a good pattern for home defense with Winchester Defender ammunition.

It’s important to ensure that you aren’t sending errant pellets around the threat and wreaking havoc through your home’s interior. Which could potentially injure someone you didn’t intend. If you seek a pattern that is tighter still, the M&P is threaded to accept Rem-style choke tubes. As a result, you can easily customize your spread.

Handling the M&P 12

Now that I knew how the Smith & Wesson M&P 12 shot, it was time to learn how it handled. As previously stated, bullpup designs swing around obstacles easily because their overall length is quite short. This is because the action is set back into the stock instead of in front of your face.

As this is the defining feature of this shotgun, I decided to set up a mock home environment. It included stacks of 55-gallon drums to practice movements both towards and around cover. In addition, it allowed for reloading and clearing any jams that I encountered.

Well, for starters, I didn’t get any jam-clearing practice, as it fed and ejected just as it should. At least as long as I worked the action aggressively enough not to short-stroke it. I enjoyed the point-down loading feature as it was easy to add shells when I found myself in “tactical pauses.”

The muzzle-down loading procedure is tactically sound while keeping others out of harm’s way.

That’s an important feature in itself, as some of the other bullpup shotguns on the market cannot be topped off. Instead, they must be run dry before being able to accept more ammunition.

Best of all, topping off the M&P 12 can be performed regardless of which position the magazine selector is in. This is another could-be fault that is often overlooked in this design.

This is important because, let’s say, I wanted to load one tube with slugs and the other with shot. Imagine the hazards involved with having to flip a switch and then remember to switch it back under the stress of staying alive. Right?

Last Blasts

My range day ended with some stress-relieving tube dumps because not only are they fun, but they gave me a chance to experience firing a magazine till it was dry before switching to the other and firing again.

Packing up, I realized that this is one terrific little defensive shotgun that has more utility than it lets on. This is critical because it opens up practice opportunities. If you don’t practice with your home-defense weapon regularly, the shotgun will be almost useless in an emergency.

While I’m not going to say the M&P 12 should be your go-to trap shotgun, I can certainly see it being a load of fun for casual clay shooting. Like the sort of thing you might do on a buddy’s farm or at a barbecue.

In addition, shooting paper with reduced recoil slugs isn’t completely off the table either. It wasn’t completely awful on the shoulder, and it grouped amazingly for a smooth-bore shotgun.

I mention these activities not because I am trying to sell you an Smith & Wesson M&P 12. I mention them because, once you fire it, you are going to be looking for reasons to fire it some more.

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The shotgun’s long Picatinny rail lends itself to effortless optics mounting.

SPECIFICATIONS: Smith & Wesson M&P 12

Gauge: 12
Barrel: 19 inches
Overall Length: 27.8 inches
Sights: None
Weight: 8.3 pounds (empty)
Stock: Fixed synthetic
Grip: M&P-style (four interchangeable inserts)
Action: Pump
Finish: Matte black
Capacity: 14+1 (2 ¾-inch)
MSRP: $1,165

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Get your copy today at

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