In one swift movement, Baltimore Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham pulled a lethal-looking pistol crossbow from his desk last night and helped start an emotional discussion of the worsening violence in Baltimore.
The ornate council chamber fell silent as Mr. Cunningham showed the crossbow with a pistol grip that was purchased for $29 at a variety store a block from City Hall.
"I think we ought to do something before this becomes a hot item on the streets," the 3rd District Democrat said as he pointed the unloaded weapon toward the ceiling. Other council members leaned closer to look at the ammunition -- a small, steel-tipped arrow.
Mr. Cunningham introduced a bill to outlaw pistol crossbows, and several of his colleagues pleaded for quick, dramatic action to stem the growing violent crime gripping the city.
Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, who represents West Baltimore neighborhoods torn by nightly shootings and the illegal drug trade, said she has reached the point of considering asking that the National Guard be called in to help restore peace in the streets. The 4th District Democrat voiced her support of Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who wants to call in guardsmen to quell the drug-related violence in the nation's capital.
Residents of the Whitelock and Rosemont neighborhoods have complained to Ms. Dixon that they call the police, only to be told that nothing can be done about the crime, she said. Senior citizens live as virtual shut-ins, afraid to leave their homes. Children can't play in their yards.
Her district colleague, Councilwoman Agnes Welch, agreed. "We can't come outside our homes. We can't shop in our stores," she said.
Ms. Welch, also a Democrat, urged Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the panel searching for the next police commissioner to "hurry up."
Commissioner Edward V. Woods unexpectedly announced his retirement in August, with the city on pace to exceed last year's record 335 murders. He leaves office Nov. 1.
The council supported a proposal by Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, D-6th, to create an anti-violence task force.
An overwhelming majority of the 19-member council also backed the proposed ordinance by Mr. Cunningham to prohibit the sale, purchase or possession of pistol crossbows.
Mr. Cunningham said he drafted the legislation after Bernard "Buzz" Murphy, the council's legislative liaison, was shocked to see a crossbow pistol displayed in a store on Baltimore Street near City Hall.
"It was outrageous. Any kid could buy it," said Mr. Murphy, who also found the crossbows available through sporting goods catalogs. Gunshop owners maintain that pistol crossbows are neither powerful nor popular. Chuck Thurston, manager of the archery section of the Valley Gun Shop on Harford Road, said that he rarely sells more than a couple a month, mostly to adults for target practice.