Former Nixon administration solicitor general Erwin Griswold indulged a slashing attack on the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms {op-ed, Nov. 4}. Sparing few invectives, he dismisses it as a "phantom right" posing "no barrier to strong gun laws."

Griswold's truculence is not well taken; indeed, he would be well-advised to consider remedial instruction on the Bill of Rights. His implausible "analysis," which relies upon one Supreme Court case that is on point -- and two cases that decidedly are not -- reflects weak legal scholarship and a thinly veiled rationalization of an emotional, unreasoning aversion to the private ownership of firearms.

History, clearly anathema to Griswold's analysis, dictates a contrary conclusion. William Blackstone, in his classic treatise on the common law, recognized that the right to keep arms for the purpose of self-defense was a "primary law of nature" that could not be "taken away by the law of society." The right to keep arms for this purpose was considered basic by the drafters of the Bill of Rights. Under the Ninth Amendment, such rights at common law were preserved. Thus, the keeping of private arms for self-defense exists independent of the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment served two additional purposes. First, the militia, in addition to its utility for purposes of defense, would also serve as a counterbalance to the distrusted standing army. What was the ''militia''? George Mason, one of the fathers of the Bill of Rights, reflected the common contemporary understanding of the term when he said that it consisted simply of ''the whole people.''

The Second Amendment also served the higher purpose of ensuring that the people would remain armed and resistant to tyranny. Thomas Jefferson's famous observation that the ''tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants'' merely suggests a commonly held belief. The language that would support Griswold's interpretation was suggested by Roger Sherman and specifically rejected by the drafters.

Griswold's sweeping dismissal of those scholars who conclude that the Second Amendment confers an individual right would surely surprise anyone who has read "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms," a report of the subcommittee on the Constitution of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee (1982), which stated: ''The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept and wording of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major commentator and court in the first half-century after its ratification, indicated that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner.''

The one case in this century squarely decided on the Second Amendment, the 1939 Supreme Court case of United States v. Miller, certainly does not support Griswold's theory. The court in Miller, in refusing to take judicial notice that a short-barreled shotgun had ''some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia,'' merely concluded that that particular firearm did not warrant Second Amendment protection. Does Miller then stand for Griswold's proposition that the only militia that may have guns is the ''organized'' militia?

Decidedly not. To the undoubted discomfort of those who perpetuate the ''collective right'' canard, there is increasing recognition that the Second Amendment may actually mean what it says -- that ''the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.'' Prof. Sanford Levinson, in a 1989 Yale Law Journal article titled ''The Embarrassing Second Amendment,'' suggests that the drafters did indeed recognize the Second Amendment as conveying individual, not collective, rights. Also apparently escaping Griswold's scrutiny is a textual analysis of the Bill of Rights in the recent Supreme Court case of United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990), in which Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority, notes that the term ''the people'' has the same meaning in the First, Second, Fourth, Ninth and 10th Amendments.

Griswold's argument to restrict the Bill of Rights suggests an exercise in consistent, albeit defective, reasoning. His argument that government (despite the Second Amendment) should ''protect'' the people against the private ownership of firearms rings strongly of his argument in the famous ''Pentagon Papers'' case -- that the government (despite the First Amendment) could also ''protect'' the people against the ''publication of information.'' History records that the Supreme Court disagreed with Griswold.

Griswold's philosophy of individual rights should disturb anyone who has witnessed the fruits of tyranny. The Bill of Rights was created as an inalienable and perpetual shield against government abuse, including judicial abuse. If it is possible to convert the Second Amendment into a ''phantom,'' then there is no reason to expect that any other fundamental guarantee of liberty stands on stronger ground.

The writer is general counsel for the National Rifle Association of America.