The discussions of the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" {Free for All, Aug. 15 and 22} all contain useful analyses of what the Framers of the Constitution probably intended. However, not one of these writers has told us how the federal courts have interpreted the Second Amendment. The court rulings on the "right to bear arms" have been clear and consistent for more than 100 years.

In Presser v. Illinois (1886), the Supreme Court declared that the Second Amendment "is a limitation only upon the power of Congress and the National government, and not upon that of the States." Thus the court upheld the right of the state of Illinois to establish an exclusive state militia and to prohibit private groups from associating as paramilitary organizations and parading with arms.

A federal appeals court went a step further in Cases v. U.S. (1942). It upheld the validity of the Federal Firearms Act and stated "the right to keep and bear arms is not a right conferred upon the people by the federal Constitution. Whatever rights in this respect the people may have depends on local legislation."

In Stevens v. U.S. (1971), a federal appeals court upheld a conviction for possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon. In its ruling, the court stated that "since the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies only to the right of the state to maintain a militia and not to the individual's right to bear arms, there can be no serious claim to any express constitutional right of an individual to possess a firearm."

A recent and far-reaching case was Quilici v. Village of Morton Grove (1983). The federal appeals court upheld the right of a municipality to impose by local ordinance a total ban on handguns within the city limits. The court repeated the well-established rule that the Second Amendment has no application to state and local legislation, but went on to explain its rationale by concluding that individual possession of handguns is not reasonably related to the maintenance of a state militia.

Finally, in Sklar v. Byrne (1984), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a city ordinance that will effectively ban handguns in Chicago by denying people there the right to register them after the effective date of the ordinance. Under other legislation, all firearms in Chicago must be registered. As in Morton Grove, the city's regulatory authority was upheld under the general "police power" enjoyed by local governments. G. G. Jacobsen

There can be no more erroneous a statement than Robert Beard's that a ''growing body of scholarly work'' supports the contention that the Second Amendment covered private gun ownership {Free for All, Aug. 22}.

The Supreme Court has ruled on the Second Amendment issue five times. Each time it clearly stated that the amendment has a "collective, militia interpretation." Specifically, in U.S. v. Cruickshank it stated: ''the bearing of arms for a lawful purpose is not a right granted by the Constitution.''

An intense study of the Second Amendment question by the American Bar Association concluded: ''In addition to the five decisions in which the Supreme Court has construed the amendment, every federal court decision has given the amendment a collective, militia interpretation and/or held that firearms control laws enacted under a state's police powers are constitutional. Thus, arguments premised upon the federal Second Amendment, or similar provisions of the 37 state constitutions, have never prevented regulations of firearms.''

The question we should be asking is: How do we keep handguns out of the wrong hands? -- Peter Miller