Hastings was debating the merits of House Bill 650 with Chris D. Mitchell on The Star's Facebook page Monday. The first-term Republican representing Cleveland and Gaston counties became upset when Mitchell erroneously stated that Hastings owns guns and has a concealed handgun permit.
"Mr. Mitchell, you are still telling lies," Hastings wrote. "You are a liar. I don't have a conceal carry permit, you idiot. Do you know how to tell the truth? I have told you before that you are a coward and you continue to prove it."
Hastings told The Star in April that he was taking a concealed handgun class with other lawmakers and aides at the General Assembly in Raleigh. He has not been issued a concealed-carry permit, however, and said Monday that he has a BB gun and a youth training rifle but doesn't own handguns.
"This man has told a lie," Hastings said. "He failed to verify his facts. I've asked him to retract the statements that were untrue. No matter how you slice it, he told a lie, period."
Mitchell did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday.
The exchange began when Mitchell posted comments about a story on HB 650, a provision of which would allow concealed handgun permit-holders to possess guns on school grounds as long as the firearms remained in a closed compartment of a locked car. Hastings co-sponsored the bill, which passed the House last week and is scheduled for committee hearings in the state Senate.
That story drew more than 130 comments on The Star's website. A posting on the newspaper's Facebook page with a link to the article had 43 comments as of 5:30 p.m. Monday. Hastings had posted 10 comments and Mitchell had made 17.
The testy exchange raised eyebrows on Facebook, where other readers suggested Hastings adopt a more respectful tone.
"It is disappointing to see an elected government official like Rep. Hastings, a person supposedly committed to public service, mocking a public citizen in a discussion of a proposed public law," wrote Morris Davis, a Shelby High graduate and retired Air Force colonel who works in Washington.
Comments made in the heat of the moment that can be stored, shared and viewed forever are a pitfall for some politicians trying to use social media to connect with their constituents, said Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. A recent Pew poll showed one in 10 social network site users admitted posting something that they later regretted.
"The posting of one's thoughts in an unfiltered way can at times run counter to the demands of a modern political messaging campaign," Smith said. "Things that used to stay contained to the crowd or the room or the individual location they take place in can now be captured and disseminated instantaneously."
Hastings said Monday that he stands by his strong words. He said he does carefully consider what he writes before posting an online comment that thousands could read.
"If I'm not prepared to see it on the front of the paper, I don't put it on Facebook," he said.