At the end of a discussion on gun violence, panelists Iran Nazario and Erica Smegielski hug while Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at Wilson-Gray YMCA in Hartford, Conn., on April 21. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

HARTFORD, Conn. — Hillary Clinton accused gunmakers and the gun lobby on Thursday of using their money and power to coerce members of Congress to do their bidding, as she promised to work for new gun-control measures if elected president.

"We need a national movement," Clinton said at a community meeting in a YMCA here, drawing applause. "The gun lobby is the most powerful lobby in Washington," more so than Wall Street, big Pharma and more, she said, adding, "They have figured out how to really intimidate elected officials at all levels, who basically stop thinking about this problem because they are too scared of the NRA," the National Rifle Association.

Clinton cited the massacre of Connecticut schoolchildren four years ago as only one example of a gun culture gone too far. She tied some gun violence to difficulty getting mental health treatment for some who need it, and said gun-control activists are too often targeted for online harassment.

"There has been a concerted effort to undermine the real-life experiences of people who speak out," Clinton said. "Blame the victim, blame the victim's mother , blame the victim's family, blame the victim's neighborhood," she said. "Find somebody to blame instead of saying — you know what, we've just got too many guns in this country."

She repeatedly promised to try to build on the Brady bill, which was passed during her husband's administration, and said the gun lobby has effectively blocked most gun-control efforts since then. She said common-sense gun control can be achieved without infringing on the Second Amendment and with the support of gun owners.

"I am not here to make promises I can't keep," she said. "I'm looking for ways we can save lives. It is just too easy for people to reach for a gun."

Clinton was introduced by Erica Smegielski, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School and was killed along with 20 children and five other staff members at the Newtown, Conn., school by a gunman in 2012.

Clinton's voice broke as she recounted how a participant in a panel discussion at the YMCA, Nelba Marquez-Greene, had given her the children's book that she and her 6-year-old daughter, Ana Grace, had been reading the night before she was killed at Sandy Hook. It was one of the country's worst mass shootings.

An emotional Clinton said Marquez-Greene asked her to read the book to her own granddaughter, Charlotte. She was also visibly moved by the story told by an audience member, a local pastor, of beseeching God to save his son, fatally shot at 20 by another 20-year-old.

"Let the congregation say, Amen," Clinton said when he finished.

She mentioned her Democratic presidential primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, only in passing. She noted that he had voted in favor of a law giving gunmakers unusual protection from lawsuits, while she had opposed it as a U.S. senator representing New York. She pledged to try to overturn that protection.