In nearly every episode of "The Andy Griffith Show," the gun was missing. The gun was secondary and off camera. Out of the picture.
Sure, we knew it was there ... somewhere. Barney bumbled with his one bullet, and Sheriff Andy had the (wasn't it unlocked?) gun case in the sheriff's office, but the gun was never a central object. Andy didn't even carry one. Barney barely did.
Of course, the show was born in black-and-white Hollywood, which is drastically different than our flatscreen 21st century world. But Andy Griffith's death last week left me thinking: Would his show make the airwaves today? If screenwriters proposed "The Andy Griffith Show" to Hollywood today, would it make the cut?
Probably not. First, you need people of color (name one minority character that appeared even semi-regularly) and some post-1950 understanding that alcoholism is not comedic. Sorry, Otis.
But the main reason why the show would not appear in prime time is because no cop/law enforcement television show treats guns in such a way anymore.
These days, the gun is everywhere.
"A typical child in the U.S. watches 28 hours of TV weekly," the American Psychological Association reports, "seeing as many as 8,000 murders by the time he or she finishes elementary school at age 11."
Why do we script our TV shows in such a way? What is the effect of such screen violence?
"Such TV violence socialization may make children immune to brutality and aggression, while others become fearful of living in such a dangerous society," the report continues.
Name one cop show where the main character goes unarmed and his sidekick keeps his bullet in his buttoned-up shirt pocket. Andy Griffith would be laughed out of Hollywood today.
And Nashville, too.
Thanks to the National Rifle Association lobby.
In 2011, Nashville legislators filed pro-NRA bills that would allow:
• Tennessee judges to carry guns in their courtroom;
• Gun owners to store their gun in their vehicles while parked at work, regardless of company rules;
• Faculty to carry guns onto school property at public universities;
• Property-owning Tennesseans to obtain a handgun-carry permit, even if they only own property in our state but do not live here.
All this comes after lawmakers allowed licensed gun owners to carry their guns into bars, restaurants and state parks.
This summer, the NRA has already - already! - begun pressuring candidates even before they become lawmakers. In a letter sent to legislative candidates, the NRA asks 27 questions about Tennessee gun issues, including this one:
"As a legislator, would you follow the demands of party leadership even if they run contrary to the NRA's legislative agenda?" the survey reads.
It's like the NRA has become a third political party demanding allegiance over - not just voters and the overall good of the state - but top Republican leadership.
Get back in line.
There are far more important issues facing our great and troubled state than guns in parking lots. For the NRA to bully legislators in such a way is to act as if gun rights is the only issue in the state while furthering a fear-based psychology: Crime, crime, everywhere is crime.
Yes, it's the Second Amendment, and the amount of Tennessee murders committed by licensed handgun owners is minuscule - only 0.002 percent of our state's permitted population, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.
I'm not arguing against the Second Amendment. I'm arguing unreasonableness, and the NRA's attempt to be the most powerful lobby in our state.
Crime in Mayberry usually didn't extend past wayward moonshiners or pie-off-the-windowsill theft. The show matters because it is a window into American psychology at the time, just as modern television is today.
I wonder what Andy would say about the NRA lobby in Tennessee.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.