Author’s note: This article is intended as a high-level overview of real weapons, tactics, and terminology (plus some ramblings). Most superhero stories operate in a different universe in regards to physics or emergency care, as Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated at the end of Last Action Hero, but the information could be useful in a setting like Netflix’s Daredevil.
Distance and Accuracy With Rifles
When setting up a scene for a story based on real weapons, tactics, and physics, and not comic-book rules, the combat distance will change if you want your characters to survive for very long. Unless a carbine (M-16/AR-15 style rifle or the AK pattern rifle) has been modified and maintained for increased accuracy, most encounters should be within 300 meters. Yes, some AR-15s and even AK rifles can hit further on a static range, but generally the effective combat range for the carbine-armed criminals will be within 300 meters.
Rifles are sighted to zero at a specific distance, the point in space where the front sight and rear sight line up perfectly. From my personal experiences, the AK is commonly sighted to 200 meters and the AR-15 to 300 meters. Many rifles also include a red dot or holoscope, Aimpoint and EOTech the most commonly used by law-enforcement and military, for a quick acquisition of the target. I zero my red dots at 100 meters but 50 meters is common too.
If you have a scope on a rifle chambered for a battle round like the 7.62x51mm NATO or 7.62x54R then ranges are going to increase significantly. Western sniper rifles typically use the 7.62x51mm NATO, almost identical to the .308 Winchester on the civilian market. The military tests these rifles out to 1500 meters so your superhero or villain (looking at you, Deadshot) can be pretty far away when taking the killing shot. If combat occurs in a city, the maximum range of these rifles will be difficult to achieve. In a hostage situation, the SWAT sniper will be as close as possible. In one interview, a former LAPD sniper stated he preferred to shoot at 70 meters. This might not be very far for the bullet to go, but when a shot could mean life or death, you don’t take any chances.
Using Melee Weapons Against Ranged Weapons
Melee weapons can be anything from a hammer, a baseball bat, or a knife. Many law enforcement agencies and self-defense shooters practice the Tueller Drill, also known as the 21 foot rule. You might have seen the Tueller Drill on the Mythbusters a few seasons ago. As the Mythbusters confirmed, Lieutenant Tueller was correct that an attacker with a knife can reach an officer with a pistol holstered if the attacker is less than 20 feet away. And even if the shooter does get a round off, the knife wielder might still reach the shooter with an unpleasant outcome for both combatants.
So what does the Tueller Drill mean for your story?
In close quarters, an armed and trained officer or citizen that believes there is danger nearby will have the pistol out of the holster with a round in the chamber and ready to fire. A smart villain, even armed only with a melee weapon or completely unarmed, will wait to attack (within 21 feet) to push the survival odds more in his favor.
Against a rifle or shotgun, a knife-wielding attacker better reach the shooter first. A long gun is more difficult to use in close quarters, but a single blast from a 12 gauge shotgun or burst from a carbine will likely end any attack immediately.
In reality, most gun fights occur under 7 meters using pistols with less than 3 rounds fired. If you take a defensive pistol class, it is likely you will practice shooting at a maximum of 7 meters for this reason.