Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt five years ago, still struggles for words.

"Speaking is difficult for me," she said Wednesday in a halting voice, "but come January, I want to say these two words: Madam President."

The crowd gathered in Cherry Hill for a roundtable on gun violence burst into applause at the emotional endorsement of Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, both prominent advocates for gun control, were in town to campaign for policies to keep guns from criminals and the mentally ill, and to put in a good word for Clinton ahead of the June 7 New Jersey primary.

"Hillary is tough. In the White House, she will stand up to the gun lobby," Giffords added.

Giffords, a Democrat, was shot in the head in January 2011 while meeting with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket.

The discussion, hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey, was attended by about 50 people, including Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.), Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, and a handful of state legislators. They also heard from parents whose children were shot to death.

For months, gun control has been an issue in the battle between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. She has held dozens of roundtables on gun violence, pressing ideas to restrict access to firearms, and has bludgeoned Sanders for his vote in the Senate to shield gun manufacturers from liability in wrongful-death lawsuits.

Last week, the National Rifle Association endorsed presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump at its annual convention in Louisville, Ky.

"If she could, Hillary would ban every gun, destroy every magazine . . . and put your name on a government registration list," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and chief lobbyist for the NRA.

Trump pledged to end gun-free zones, allowing teachers to be armed in schools, which he said could have prevented the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were fatally shot. He also said he would resist other restrictions on gun rights.

"The Second Amendment is on the ballot in November," Trump declared.

Democratic strategists believe the divide on guns will help Clinton win the votes of suburban women in metropolitan areas, which early polls suggest could be a decisive voting bloc.

The gun lobby came in for sustained criticism during the Cherry Hill meeting for blocking what Kelly called commonsense reforms such as preventing suspected terrorists on the "no-fly" list from buying firearms; making it harder for those with mental illness to obtain guns; and expanding background checks to cover gun-show sales. Federal legislation on these issues has stalled in Congress in the face of adamant NRA opposition, though there have been some victories in a variety of states.

"We're talking about commonsense solutions," Norcross said. "We respect the Second Amendment."

Kelly suggested that his listeners become "single-issue voters for gun safety," in the same manner that the NRA and others have organized gun-rights voters. "They have protected loopholes . . . intimidated even some of our presidents," he said.

Andres Camacho of Camden told the panel about his son, shot to death "for no reason" as he walked out of a corner grocery store in 2006. The homicide has never been solved, Camacho said, so he does not even have the cold comfort of an explanation.

"Every time you hear about a murder, you get a flashback," Camacho said. "It's like it happened yesterday. This has to stop - these people who can get a gun so easily and kill someone for no reason."

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718

@tomfitzgerald

www.philly.com/bigtent