I'm eating a delicious ham and tomato sandwich Saturday afternoon (December 3), but I'm having a bit of trouble enjoying it because I'm sitting in a lounge with about 70 others, mostly men, all of them gun lovers but me.
It's two weeks before Paul Martin's gun ban announcement, and these folks are here to participate in the AGM of the 12,000-strong Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA).
They're also here to get some grassroots training in political action from America's most successful lobbying organization (no, not the tobacco industry, but good guess): the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA has had a good run of it lately, helping to elect 96 per cent of its endorsed candidates in the last round of elections for the U.S. House of Representatives. It has also successfully pushed for legislation to make it very difficult to sue gun and ammunition manufacturers for damages, and have seen to it that former president Bill Clinton's ban on automatic weapons died a quiet death before its review was even debated on the floor of the House.
But as I make my way to the coffee and muffin table, I'm beginning to relax. These people aren't all that scary, really. They're mostly older, kind-looking, outdoorsy-type guys who would undoubtedly, as the bumper sticker declares, rather be fishin' or huntin' than sitting cooped up in the sterile environs of Scarborough's Armenian Hall.
Maybe that's why, even though the price of admission to this event includes lunch, many of these guys have so much hardware dangling from their belts, its as if they thought they'd have to catch their own grub and then skin it, too.
But when the guy ahead of me in the coffee queue whips out a mini-flashlight from his belt pack and shines it on the box of creamers in order to find some 2 per cent milk in the sea of 18 per cent, I'm impressed.
Outside the world of rock and roll, I've never seen a maglight put to better use.
It's easy to pick out the NRA rep, Glen Caroline. He's crisply dressed in a bright white shirt and blue suit, and unlike the rest of the crowd, he's been to both the gym and the barber recently and often. He's pacing, waiting for the event to start, a ball of tightly coiled energy, while clusters of guys stand around musing darkly, here about how to take down the local Liberal candidate, there about the gun registry (of course).
Everyone, though, is a bit giddy, because they've got the real deal here the NRA, the big boys.
Before Caroline's talk begins, a rep from the CSSA tells the assembly that if anyone from the media is here, they must now leave; this is a private meeting. Hmm. It reminds me of a joke: How do you get a bunch of Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, "Hey, guys, can you get out of that swimming pool?"
I bought a ticket, and besides, how can I leave now that I know I'm not wanted? I can only imagine what kind of dastardly dark arts Caroline is going to conjure on behalf of the beleaguered gun owners of Canada. I stay.
What I hear, however, is a bit underwhelming, and I sure hope the CSSA didn't pay Caroline too much to come up. He offers a blueprint of the successful grassroots organizing plan that has made the NRA the behemoth it is today.
And guess what? It's the same blueprint used by just about every grassroots organization that wants to effect legislative change: find candidates who support your cause who stand a chance at getting elected, and work hard for them.
Recruit new members and volunteers in venues where you are likely to find like-minded souls. In a way, it's so simple and commonsensical that I find myself getting quite inspired about ways to build a campaign to thwart the campaign to loosen Canadian gun laws.
Before I leave the party, I hit the can, which is downstairs next to a huge gymnasium where a Saturday youth basketball camp is under way. I stand at the door watching nine- and 10-year-old kids try to do lay-ups.
It feels so strange, this juxtaposition watching kids, the very kids city leaders have been talking so much about protecting in the current storm of gun proliferation and gun violence, down here in the gym, while upstairs men plot the beginnings of a movement to undermine what gun control legislation we currently have.
I'm guessing that many of these guys are decent, solid types who aren't going to be using their guns in criminal ways. They just like to shoot them at firing ranges and at the occasional moose and stuff.
After this weekend workshop, three days before the December 6 anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, in ridings where they have a chance of winning, Tory candidates should expect an offer of help from the CSSA.
I ride the bus south on Markham, where I'm jarred by another juxtaposition. A couple of suburban blocks south of the Armenian Hall are the highrise apartments of Tuxedo Court, an address that's been the scene of several incidences of gun violence over the last few years.
As I pass, I wonder which shooting sport most residents would rather their children be involved in the one played with a basketball or the one played with bullets.