This time, it's the death of a man who was shocked during an incident at the Vancouver airport. Manners don't permit me to show you the YouTube videos of this sad event. But you don't really need to see what happened, do you?
I don't think so. What should matter to us as humans is that a man is dead. What should matter to us as investors is that TASER is once again in the media, facing blaring headlines. The whole mess takes sickening to a new level. Thus, and not surprisingly, the response has been varied -- and extreme.
Canadian authorities are demanding an investigation. TASER is leaning on studies showing that its devices save lives and reduce officer injuries. The company is also attacking -- rightly, I might add -- those who take the unsupported leap of calling this and incidents like it "TASER deaths."
Rightly? Yes, rightly. As David Gardner recently pointed out on our discussion boards at Motley Fool Rule Breakers, stunning headlines are a concern to both the company and investors, for they foster the false perception that the TASER is a deadly weapon, a notch below the handguns built by the likes of Sturm, Ruger (NYSE: RGR ) and Smith & Wesson (Nasdaq: SWHC ) .
I feel that I shouldn't have to say this, but given the times and the headlines, I'll say it anyway: A TASER isn't equivalent to a gun. It never will be.
Yet I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the same media that's burned TASER from time to time has also served it extremely well, thanks to some clever-if-somewhat-questionable PR.
Witness this feature story in Canada's National Post, which, frighteningly, tells the tale of a former TASER employee who says she saw TASER's top managers shredding documents related to hundreds of injuries suffered during TASER training for police officers.
Talk about an explosive accusation. It has yet to be proved, but ... ouch.
Yet even this supposedly thorough National Post investigation perpetuated the fallacy that TASER boasts an unblemished legal record. Quoting: "Its litigation record is impressive: 61 lawsuits have been dismissed; at least two brought verdicts in TASER's favor; and 39 suits are pending." (Emphasis added.)
Wrong. Hard evidence has been published here and elsewhere that TASER's legal record is neither perfect nor unblemished. To the contrary -- it's littered with settlements that the company has colored as victories. Still, the myth persists.
So what are we, the investors, left with? A company whose technology is far safer than the mass media has depicted and a management team that, if allegations are to be believed, may have committed at least one serious crime. (But innocent till proven guilty, remember!)
That's as tough an environment as you'll find when it comes to investing. For now, I believe as David does: that the rewards of investing in an alternative to deadly force more than compensates for the risk that an army of fee-hungry lawyers creates.
But as we've seen with the housing bust and the ensuing credit crunch, conditions in the stock market can change very quickly. Especially when regulators get involved. That's about to be what we have with TASER. Invest accordingly.
A stunning array of related Foolishness awaits: