Updated 2:06 p.m. ET, 5/6/2014
National Harbor, Maryland (CNN) – Hillary Clinton told an audience of mental health professionals on Tuesday that the United States needs to rein in its gun culture or risk a world where insignificant disagreements could lead to shootings.
Asked about the mental health aspects of guns, Clinton said "I think we've got to rein in what has become a almost article faith that anybody can have a gun, anywhere, anytime. I don't believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people."
"We really have got to get our arms around it because at the rate we are going, we are going to have so many people with guns everywhere fully licensed, fully validated," Clinton said, painting a picture of a country where small annoyances could lead to shootings.
Clinton, whose comments came during the question and answer portion at the end of her appearance, said because "we are living at a time when there is so much external stimulation and some much internal confusion in certain people," it would be a bad idea to let people "go to bars with guns, let them go to schools with guns, let them go to church with guns."
Referencing a shooting earlier this year where a 71-year old retired police officer shot a 43-year old man texting in a movie theater, Clinton said people thinking they "have the right to defend themselves against the gum chewer and the cell phone user by shooting the person" is reminiscent of countries she visited "with no rule of law and self control."
But Clinton also gave an olive branch to gun owners, adding "I think you can say that and still support the right of people to own guns."
In the past, Clinton has tried to maintain a balance between respecting gun owners and tightening gun laws. While running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Clinton told a Pennsylvania debate audience that she respected "the rights of lawful gun owners to own guns, to use their guns, but I also believe that most lawful gun owners whom I have spoken with for many years across our country also want to be sure that we keep those guns out of the wrong hands."
Gun control was a major political issue after the December 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, where twenty young children and six adults were killed at the school by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who had earlier killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their Newtown, Connecticut home.
In the weeks and months after the shooting, Democrats – led by President Barack Obama – looked to spearhead efforts to strengthen gun laws and expand background checks of firearm sales. Despite public support for the background check provision, a compromise plan failed to pass the Democratic controlled Senate in April of last year, and efforts since then have been minimal.
While President Barack Obama lashed out when the Senate effort faltered, calling the defeat a "pretty shameful day for Washington," a number of gun rights groups heralded the defeat as a success and said the background check provision was "misguided" and would not reduce violent crime "or keep our kids safe in their schools."
Clinton's new remarks came at the National Council for Behavioral Health's annual conference just outside Washington, D.C. The organization, which serves as a membership organization for mental health and substance abuse providers around the country, estimated that over 4,000 people were in attendance for Clinton's remarks.
The conference has drawn a number of high profile speakers, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, New York Mayor Bill deBlasio and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Clinton more bullish on Obamacare
Most of Clinton's speech focused on the American's access to mental health services and the Affordable Care Act.
Clinton, who earlier this year endorsed changes to Obamacare, the controversial and sweeping healthcare measure signed into law by the President in 2010, appeared more bullish about the law on Tuesday.
The former first lady touted the mental health provisions in the law, as well provisions that prevent insurance companies from being able to deny coverage to people for preexisting conditions.
"Yes, there are things we can fix," Clinton said. "But just the preexisting condition elimination in and of itself is a huge gift to so many."
She continued, "The system was backwards before, we are straightening it out. It should help lead to lower costs and better outcomes for millions of Americans."
Clinton also knocked Republican lawmakers who have vigorously opposed the law, despite, she said, of all the benefits it could provide their constituents.
"I don't know why those elected officials are letting politics drive what is a good deal for their states," Clinton said. This is a smart investment. … I see it as a strictly political partisan decision. I regret that, because I think we can do better."
Clinton, who is widely considered the front runner for the Democratic president nomination in 2016, was also asked about her future aspirations. The former secretary of state reiterated that she is thinking about running for office – something she said last month – but went on to say that she has to decide whether she is ready to ask people to vote for her.
"Stay tuned," Clinton said. "When I know, you'll know."
The audience of mental health professionals were very receptive to Clinton and many of her comments garnered loud rounds of applause. There were a number of light moments, too. Clinton was asked what her guilty pleasure was, to which the former first lady paused and joked, "I’m just trying to think of some G-Rated ones.” She eventually answered "chocolate."
Clinton, who is set to become a grandmother this fall when her daughter Chelsea delivers her first child, was also jokingly asked about what role Congress should have in naming the child.
"Given what’s going on, the poor child would never get a name," she said, joking about gridlock in Washington.
The death of a friend
Given the topic of the conference – mental health – Clinton was asked about the 1993 suicide of Vince Foster, a close Clinton confidant and White House counsel at the time.
While Foster – who killed himself on July 20, 1993 at a park in Northern Virginia – was never mentioned by name, Clinton did speak about what she learned from the death of her close friend.
"I think particularly in the case you are talking about, I think there was a reluctance to seek help," Clinton said of Foster. "We knew after the fact that he was depressed, he was really filled with all kinds of doubts and anxieties and suicidal thoughts and had not talked to anybody, not sought out a professional."
She contented, "I think that even then, twenty plus years ago, there was still a stigma, there was still a sense among high functioning people, because the people I knew that killed themselves were all really high functioning and very successful. I think that the fact for them is they did not want to be seen as weak, they didn't want to admit their problems."