In some interesting news on the small-company front, shares of "less-lethal" weapon maker Taser International (NASDAQ:TASR) jumped this morning after the company said Congress allocated $1 million to the Defense Department to buy its weapons as part of the defense appropriations bill signed yesterday by President Bush.

"Taser" is pretty much a household name, synonymous with the stun-guns used primarily by police -- most notably, it could be argued, on Janey "Paint on Her Overalls" Briggs in the indispensable comedy "Not Another Teen Movie." Though clearly upset, Janey lived to tell the tale.

That's the attraction. Conducted energy weapons, Taser explains, use electricity on the signaling mechanisms the body uses communicate. "This electrical output simply 'jams' the communication system of the body ... [by sending] a series of energy pulses quite similar to those used by the brain to communicate with the body. ... The human target instantly loses muscular control of his body and cannot perform coordinated action, usually falling to the ground."

Taser is small, with a market capitalization well below $100 million. Still, its shares have made some big moves since mid-2001. Over the last 12 months they've been on a rocket ride, as Taser penetrated its key law enforcement market but has also shown potential in new markets the company craves.

Clearly, Taser has been in the news since 9/11, particularly amid discussions about the kind of weapons airline pilots should or should not be allowed to carry. There's interest from commercial airlines, though government approval would be required first. (The company is lobbying to make that happen.)

Today's news, meanwhile, is encouraging because it's perhaps the best -- though not only -- sign to date that the company is making headway with the military. No revenue has yet come to Taser from the military (or the airlines, for that matter), but any signs of military demand for its non-lethal weapons presents the potential for a healthy boost to results.

Of course, even $1 million in incremental sales would be meaningful to Taser, which turned in about $10 million in 2002 revenues and a slim net profit.

With a strong balance sheet, Taser is positioned for future growth should it continue to ply new markets while still getting value from its core customers. (The company hopes increased publicity from law enforcement and other users will in turn boost its consumer division.)

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