I must say, that was some mighty fine shootin' there, Taser (Nasdaq: TASR). Didn't hit the target, mind you. But you sure talked a good game.

Taser, as you've probably heard by now, filed its third-quarter earnings -- sorry, make that its third-quarter losses -- report yesterday afternoon. Sales were down 10% year over year. No surprise there, given the weakness in state and local tax revenues that fund purchases by Taser's law enforcement customers. Word has it that Sturm, Ruger (NYSE: RGR), and Smith & Wesson (Nasdaq: SHWC) aren't doing so hot lately, either. Still, gross margins tumbled 750 basis points as Taser lost ground in the battle for efficiencies of scale, and a series of "inventory obsolescence and restructuring charges" didn't help much either. Result: Taser lost $0.04 per diluted share for the quarter, four times worse than predicted.

Lesson one: Don't shoot yourself in the foot
And yet, it could have been worse. Putting the best spin possible on the quarterly loss, CEO Rick Smith (no relation) noted that "continued reduction in the fixed costs needed to run the business" prevented this quarter's loss from being any bigger. Plus, as Smith pointed out, the company is finally seeing "improvements in our cash earnings." Improvements that should continue now that "the economy is moving into an upswing [and] we are moving from a heavy investment phase into a profitable and growth phase." (Oh, really?)

I mean, that sounds great, but ... is the economy really doing all that well? And these "improvements" Smith tells us are in the cash flow statements -- is it too much to ask for a chance to check Taser's math?

Range officer? We need a paper target
For reasons only Taser knows, the company only included an abridged cash flow statement with this quarter's report. Cash flow from operations so far this year is running negative by $2.6 million, which when combined with $3.7 million in "investment activities" suggests the company will probably end up burning about $8.4 million this year.

Assuming most the "investment activity" is capital expenditures, that actually sounds worse than the $3.6 million that Taser burned last year. Then again, I haven't seen the cash flow statement -- which is exactly the point.

Don't just tell us about your cash flow, Taser. Show us the money. Put up or shut up.

Are there any bargains anywhere in arms manufacturer stocks these days. Actually, yes, there are.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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