Warren Buffett is not changing his mind on guns

Sounding off.
Sounding off.
Image: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
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Omaha, Nebraska

During the traditional Q&A session at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting today, a shareholder challenged chairman Warren Buffett on his refusal to pressure Berkshire subsidiaries to divest from gun-related businesses. Following February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Buffett told CNBC: “I don’t believe in imposing my views on 370,000 employees and a million shareholders. I’m not their nanny on that.”

“Please tell us you misspoke,” the questioner asked, via an email read to Buffett by New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

He had not. “I do not believe on imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” Buffett said, drawing applause from the admittedly pro-free-market crowd. “If you get into which of our companies are pure and which ones aren’t pure, I think it will be very difficult.” The gun question is a hypothetical one for Berkshire; in February, Buffett said he was unaware of any Berkshire holdings in firearms.

Buffett has made no secret of his left-leaning personal politics. He reminded the audience that he was an outspoken fundraiser and supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Berkshire as a company, however, has never made a political donation, he said. But Buffett made clear that he doesn’t expect moral perfection from his investments.

“All the big banks have had troubles of one sort or another,” he said in response to a question about Wells Fargo, which is still managing the fallout from its fraud scandal and where Berkshire owns about 10% of shares. “And I see no reason why Wells Fargo as a company, from both an investor standpoint and a moral standpoint going forward, is in any way inferior to the other big banks with which it competes.”