Schieffer: Both sides have "taken a pass" on gun control

In the wake of the tragic shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 27 dead, including 20 children, President Obama vowed at yesterday's press briefing to "use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts at preventing more tragedies like this," calling on Congress to ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The gun control debate seems to be entering a new phase in which advocates for greater restrictions on firearms have the wind at their back for the first time in years, but according to CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer, the issue likely won't be settled so easily.

Asked how powerful this "new reality" on gun control is, Schieffer told "CBS This Morning," "I would ask, 'How bad does it have to be to cause Congress and the American people to focus on a way to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't have to happen again?'" adding, "I cannot imagine that we are willing to accept this as the new normal."

Despite the new momentum behind the push for more firearms restrictions, Schieffer cautioned that "this is a very, very difficult issue," arguing that the debate's outcome will likely hinge on "what path the NRA will take" in response to the shootings.

"If they bend somewhat, I think they could play a very constructive role here," said Schieffer, adding, "This debate has to focus on putting common sense back in this."

"We don't ban cars, we have speed limits," explained Schieffer. "If we could approach this in that way, we could do something to at least make it harder for deranged people to get their hands on these weapons that have such killing power"

Still, Schieffer argued, if past is precedent, acting on gun control may be easier said than done: "Both sides...have simply taken a pass on this...if people think that Washington was not afraid of this issue and the gun lobby, I invite them to join us in trying to get people on television to talk about it."

Schieffer also discussed the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations, with both the administration and the congress scrambling to avoid or minimize the combined impact of tax hikes and spending cuts due to take effect at the beginning of 2013.

Asked if he thought the two parties were getting closer to reaching an agreement, Schieffer said, "I actually do, for all the gloom and doom talk," pointing out that the "Plan B" pitched by House Speaker John Boehner -- preserving lower tax rates for household income under $1 million -- is nearly identical to a plan pitched by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Democrats' third-in-command.

CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett delivered a similar assessment, describing a "fiscal cliff" grand bargain as "tantalizingly close."

But despite the emerging signs of a deal, much remains tentative, as demonstrated by the dueling remarks yesterday from Mr. Obama and Boehner.

Obama accused Republicans of saying no to a deal simply because "it is very hard for them to say 'yes' to me" and admonished them to "take me out of it and think about their voters."

Boehner, for his part, laid the blame for gridlock squarely at the White House's feet, calling on President Obama to press Senate Democrats to pass his "Plan B" or "be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history."

Despite the high drama, the tug of the holidays may be too great for Washington to defer the necessary dealmaking for too long, said Schieffer, explaining, "The power of Christmas is very powerful in Washington...I think before it's over, they'll get something done."