The guns could have turned it into something worse. The exposure is what saved the day.
However, I'm not sure I understand this. He's using land he doesn't own in order to make money but refuses to pay anything? While others do pay? I see no reason why I should be on this guy's side.
Apparently the land was used as a common resource for ranchers for generations, then the federal government started to charge the ranchers for their usage (to protect certain animal and plant species), and Bundy refused to pay for something that his family had been using for generations. Over the years the bill racked up to approximately a million dollars. In western states there is a problem with regards to federal government ownership (70% + of the states) vs. private and state ownership of land. So it's pretty much a grey issue. The theft of Bundy's cattle, however, is pretty black-and-white.